NFU Scotland is building on its ShelfWatch campaign to specifically look at the availability of Scottish meat on Scottish retailer shelves.
One year on from the ‘Horsegate’ scandal, when horsemeat was discovered in processed products incorrectly labelled as containing beef, the Union is looking to build on Scottish consumer support for products clearly identified as being ‘Scotch’ or ‘Scottish’ that emerged from that debacle.
Under its ShelfWatch work, the Union has been examining retailer shelves for several years, looking at support for Scottish and British produce and the level of imported meat on offer.
On the anniversary of the horsemeat scandal, that work is now being extended to ScotchWatch to track retailer commitment to making sure that beef, lamb, pork and chicken from Scottish farms is labelled as being Scottish. This will involve NFU Scotland representatives checking retail shelves on a monthly basis and assess the ratio of shelf facings dedicated to Scottish labelled meat as opposed to meat labelled as British or imported.
Initial results of ScotchWatch are encouraging but also highlight that there is considerable scope for improvements – both by some major retailers in their support of Scottish labels and in some particular categories.
Commenting on ScotchWatch, NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said: “The Scottish public’s support for Scottish farmers and their produce during the ‘Horsegate’ debacle was resolute and a massive vote of confidence in the assurance and traceability systems that we have in place in Scotland.
“The retailer response to the crisis also gave us some optimism that there was a tide turning towards sourcing products more locally and that retailers would show a strong commitment to Scottish meat, its reputation for quality, and the labels that are linked to our Scotch Beef and Lamb and Specially Selected Pork assurance schemes.
“While retailers have retained a strong commitment to Scottish produce, we have noticed some movement in Scottish shops towards British or own brand labels. Clearly there is a dialogue to be had with retailers on why a Scottish label isn’t always the label of choice. We want the Scottish label to be the preferred option in the future, and not just in Scotland, as Scottish produce has a reputation in other parts of the UK as well.
“The initial ScotchWatch results show some very positive results but also some that are a worry. We have already started to discuss our findings, both good and bad, with the retailers.
NFU Scotland’s Food Chain Relationship Manager, Kylie Barclay, who will be analysing the monthly results for beef, lamb, pork and chicken explained:
“The beef category is a good example of the variability that exists between supermarket chains in how they promote Scottish product. In this month’s ScotchWatch, there were a number of retailers that dedicated more than 70 percent of their shelf facing to Scotch labelled beef products. These retailers were the Co-op out front with 93 percent followed by Lidl, Morrison’s and Aldi.
“Disappointingly, Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s all displayed less than 70 percent of Scotch labelled beef product, although Asda’s score is perhaps unfairly low due to the high volume of British mince products on the shelf. Trailing behind at the bottom of the pack is Tesco who dedicated only 28 percent of their shelf facing to Scotch labelled beef, the rest being a mixture of British and Irish product. We have already spoken to Tesco about our findings and its underlying commitment to Scotch beef remains strong.
“Given the recent turmoil in the Scottish chicken sector, we felt it appropriate to extend our normal ShelfWatch activity into this sector. This is a difficult category to assess at the moment given the restructuring but it is useful to have a benchmark nonetheless.
“Interestingly, 100 percent of Aldi’s shelf facings are dedicated to Scottish chicken products and Tesco has given a commitment to 100 percent Scottish chicken. Asda, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op all stock Scottish whole chickens whilst the portions are British, but we recognise the lack of portioning capacity in Scotland may be affecting their potential to source Scottish portions.
“Finally, Lidl, M&S and Morrison’s all display only British labelled chicken. Given the situation with the Scottish chicken industry at present, we would want to encourage these retailers to commit to sourcing and labelling more Scottish chicken in the future when the processing capacity is available.
“Across beef, lamb, pork and chicken, it is clear that there is scope for most retailers to increase their commitment to the Scotch labels for beef and lamb and the Specially Selected label for pork. Given the crisis in our chicken sector, greater support and labelling of Scottish chicken is a priority
“We are the first to acknowledge that meat labelled as British in some Scottish stores may actually be Scottish. However, we also firmly believe that there is an opportunity to tap into Scottish consumer support for Scottish produce by, where possible, properly labelling all Scottish meat with its country of origin. We think that would benefit our producers, processors, retailers and consumers.”