* Rise in horsemeat sales attributed to shopper curiosity
* Buying horsemeat prompts more adventurous purchases
* BRC says UK consumers not avoiding beef
* Independent butchers see upturn in trade
By James Davey
LONDON, Feb 12 Speciality meat suppliers in
Britain have seen a surge in sales of horse burgers, with a
scandal over the discovery of horsemeat in beef burgers and
ready meals apparently piquing the curiosity of some shoppers.
Viewed as a delicacy in some European countries, in South
America and in east Asia, horsemeat is generally not eaten in
Britain where a horse loving public has traditionally viewed the
idea of consuming it with some distaste.
The discovery of horse DNA in beef burgers and spaghetti
bolognese sold by Britain's retailers, including market leader
Tesco, and in beef lasagne made by frozen foods group
Findus, has drawn widespread condemnation, with
government ministers blaming an "international criminal
However, extensive media coverage of the Europe-wide scandal
and an outbreak of horse jokes on twitter, e-mail and texts has
also sparked interest in the consumption of horsemeat and other
even more adventurous meats.
"While people are putting horse into their shopping cart on
the website they are also putting in things like zebra, llama
and alpaca," said Paul Webb, director of central England-based
speciality meat supplier Exotic Meats.
Horsemeat, which has a sweet, gamey flavour, is cheaper and
healthier than beef, containing half the fat, more Omega 3, and
high in protein and iron.
Though none of Britain's supermarkets sell horsemeat, it is
available through speciality meat suppliers and is on the menu
of a few notable restaurants, such as L'escargot Bleu in
Edinburgh. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has also heralded it.
Exotic Meats has seen sales of horsemeat burgers, steaks and
mince increase ten-fold since the scandal erupted on Jan. 15.
"People are inquisitive, intrigued by what it tastes like,"
said Webb, noting horsemeat products were proving popular for
dinner party hosts who wanted to provide "a good talking point."
Exotic Meats' horsemeat is sourced from either France, Spain
or Italy and processed in Britain by an EU approved plant.
Last week in response to the Findus scandal the firm posted
on its website a recipe for horsemeat lasagne.
RIGHT TO EAT
Berwickshire, Scotland-based Kezie Foods, which sells
horsemeat products alongside elk, kangaroo and crocodile, has
seen horsemeat sales double over the last three weeks, with
strong demand from restaurants as well as individuals.
"Whenever you have issues to do with alternative meats you
either have people who decide that's not for them or people who
want to exercise their right to eat whatever they choose to
eat," said director Walter Murray.
For some the idea of eating horse remains abhorrent.
"For many horse owners, eating horsemeat is as repulsive a
concept as eating cat or dog," said Victoria Spicer, editor of
Horse & Country TV.
"The horse has been an integral part of Britain's history
and culture, and we owe our equine friends much more than this."
The British Retail Consortium, whose members represent 80
percent of the UK retail industry, said although there was no
evidence of consumers avoiding beef they were being more
selective in beef burger purchases, with more interest in fresh
burgers rather than frozen ones.
"What we're hearing from our members is that there hasn't
been any drastic change in customers' buying patterns as a
result of any of this because they're clear that this is not a
safety issue," said a BRC spokesman.
However, independent butchers said they have seen an upturn
in recent trade.
"Independent butchers are experiencing greater footfall at
the present time," said Roger Kelsey, CEO of the National
Federation of Meat and Food Traders, which represents Britain's
traditional high-street butchers.
"That's basically because in the eyes of the general public
local traders are a better source of supply, due to their on
site controls, because they tend to source product from local
sources and they produce their own products on site."