Supermarket brands’ reputations slump as horse meat crisis escalates

Perception of the brands found to be carrying horse meat in their products has plummeted since news of the scandal broke last month and the crisis is tarnishing the reputation of the entire supermarket sector, according to brand tracking data.

Findus is one of several UK brands caught up in the horse meat row after its lasagne was found to contain horse meat.

Tesco, one of the first retailers to be found to have stocked products containing horse meat and earlier this week announced its Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese had contained horse DNA, is the worst hit supermarket, according to YouGov’s BrandIndex scores.

The supermarket’s Buzz rating – a net balance of negative and positive comments consumers have heard about a brand – fell to -32.30 yesterday (12 February) from -0.66 on 13 January before news of the contamination broke.

Its Index ranking – a net average of how customers rate the brand in terms of impression, quality, value, reputation, satisfaction and whether they would recommend it – fell to 12.45 from 19.82.

The majority of the UK’s major supermarkets, however, have suffered a drop in perception (see box). Notably Aldi, which was also found to have stocked products containing horse DNA, saw its Buzz ranking drop to 7.38 from 19.55.

Morrisons was the only supermarket to escape, with its Buzz score increasing in the period (see box). The supermarket has been running press ads highlighting its meat is sourced from 100 per cent British farms.

Elsewhere, Findus, which last week was found to have had products containing up to 100 per cent horse meat DNA, registered a 50.3 percentage point drop in the period from 0 before the scandal emerged. In the fast food sector Burger King, which revealed its products were contaminated last week, dropped to -9.41 from -1.55.

All of the brands directly linked to the scandal have attempted to quell growing public disquiet by launching press campaigns or online initiatives to reassure consumers action is being taken.

A series of cross industry meetings have also taken place between executives from supermarkets and the government to discuss responses. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who has suggested “criminal activity” is to blame for the crisis, has insisted there are no health risks to anyone that has eaten contaminated products.

Industry figures, however, have told Marketing Week that a more robust response is required if permanent damage to the reputation of the industry is to be avoided.

Kevin Brennan, chief executive of Quorn Foods, told Marketing Week: “[The horse meat scandal] isn’t just about meat it could be damaging to the whole food industry if not properly dealt with. The challenge is going to be about how food companies create an industry protocol that you can get quality assured back through the supply chain. This then needs to be communicated to shoppers in a clear and no-frills way to prevent confusion.”

A spokesman for the BRC says there could be a need for an “informational and confidence building” drive from the broader retail and food industry to avoid the risk of a widespread fall in confidence.

“I don’t think there’s a wide spread decline in confidence in food products and there’s no reason there should be, but there’s a risk of it. Currently it’s the concern of affected brands but because it’s not confined to one brand informational and confidence building could be required on a broader scale,” he says.

Buzz scores for UK supermarket brands: YouGov BrandIndex

Brand Buzz: Start Date – 13/01/13 Buzz: End Date – 11/02/13 Change in Score
Tesco -0.66 -32.3 -31.64
Sainsbury’s 19.39 13.64 -5.76
Asda 12.97 6.36 -6.61
Morrisons 5.68 7.04 1.37
Aldi 19.55 7.38 -12.17
Iceland 4.35 -7.33 -11.68
Marks & Spencer 22.28 15.43 -6.85
Waitrose 18.69 14.51 -4.18
The Co-operative 12.32 10.94 -1.38
Burger King -1.55 -9.41 -7.86
McDonald’s -3.21 -5.17 -1.96
Findus 0 -50.3 -50.3

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