SHOPPERS across the region are returning to the high street as the scandal over horse meat in the food chain hits consumer confidence.
A poll by The Northern Echo of independent food retailers from the region has found the revelations have prompted a 20 per cent surge in business at many butchers, while encouraging shoppers back to their local high street.
As the Food Standards Agency published results of widespread testing into meat products today (Friday, February 16), it was revealed horse meat had been found in cottage pies sent to Lancashire schools and burgers delivered to hospitals in Northern Ireland.
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The agency has tested 2,501 beef products, of which 29 results tested positive for undeclared horse meat, including Aldi’s special frozen beef lasagne, the Co-op's frozen quarter pounder burgers, and Tesco value bolognese.
Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s all declined to reveal if sales of ready meals had declined since revelations about supermarket products being contaminated with horse meat broke last month.
North East Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Ramsbotham said it was important to remember supermarkets and small traders play key roles in the region's economy.
He said: “If there is any good to come out of the current food scandal then it is people returning to high street independent food retailers, who are vital if our town and city centres are to remain vibrant and diverse."
Auctioneers at Thirsk and Darlington cattle marts reported soaring sales prices this week as demand for locally sourced meat increased.
Andrew Armstrong, from the Darlington Mart, said the average price of a cow at auction had risen by between £50 and £80 since Monday (February 11). He said: “Any animal that was destined for a smart butcher’s shop was very sought after yesterday (Thursday, February 14).”
Jonathan Cockburn, manager of JB Cockburn and Sons butchers, in Bedale, said sales of ready meals and pies had rocketed by 20 per cent in two weeks and the high street was now flourishing.
Gareth Dadd, of Bell’s Butchers, Middlesbrough, said sales had also risen by 20 per cent in two weeks.
He said: “People are saying they are not going back to supermarkets for anything. Out of adversity has come something very positive.”
Andrew Johnson, of Northallerton and District Butchers Association, said members were reporting a rise in trade, which was having knock-on effect for other high street traders.
Nick Fenwick, of Fenwick’s of Darlington, said the supermarkets “had it coming because they cut corners to cut costs”.
He said: “I think the scandal has helped us.”
Paul Taylor-Garthwaite, director of Taylor’s Butchers, in Darlington, reported record sales on Valentine’s Day, while Spennymoor butcher Neil Hocking said their boost in trade was a clear indication people were losing faith in supermarkets.
Durham city butcher John Green, of Taylor’s, said: “I hope this does good for us in the long-term because the independent butcher needs a boost.”
While Stuart Beaton, owner of Ainsty Farm Shop, at Green Hammerton in North Yorkshire, said more customers were asking about the meat’s provenance. “Our cattle comes from one-and-a-quarter miles away from here. It probably walked further than that round its field in a week.”
Lottie Riley, of The Farmer’s Cart farm shop, near York, said she had seen a lot of new faces in the shop this week.
Meanwhile, North Yorkshire farmers Jill and Nicho Mortimer and Richard and Amanda Atkinson, are selling rare breed beef and lamb from their farm’s gates, near Borrowby and Bishop Monkton, in response to the scandal.