With M&S throwing down the gauntlet to other retailers and running a high-profile campaign promoting the fact it’s the only retailer able to trace all its beef back to individual animals thanks to its DNA testing programme, meat traceability has suddenly found itself in the limelight.

But how important is traceability to shoppers? What do they understand by the term? And which retailer do they think does it best?

To find out, we teamed up with Harris Interactive for a poll of more than 2,000 Brits to explore shopper attitudes to one of the hottest topics in meat right now. Here are the key findings summarised in 10 graphs. For a more in-depth discussion of the results - and what they mean - click or tap here.

First things first: which factors are important to shoppers when buying meat?

Unsurprisingly, traceability is not a major buying factor for shoppers, with just 6.7% naming it in their top three. In our survey, quality was the factor named by most respondents, followed by price and value for money.

How important is traceability?

Although traceability is not one of the top factors motivating meat buying decisions, a majority of shoppers across all age groups say traceability is important to them when prompted.

Traceability also increasingly feeds into perception of quality, suggests AHDB head of retail and foodservice engagement Matt Southam.

“Quality means so many things to different people, but we are seeing traceability appear more as part of it,” he adds. “Sometimes that is just around actual provenance, rather than the granular detail tracking back to the individual animal.”

Furthermore, a quarter of shoppers say traceability is becoming more important to them, rising to 31% for the over-55s.

What does traceability mean to shoppers?

While M&S’s new traceability scheme allows it to trace back to the individual animal, our research suggests most shoppers don’t expect this level of traceability. Nearly 50% expect the retailer to simply be able to trace meat back to farm level.

However, there are some noteworthy demographic variations, with male respondents as well as those from London and those aged 18-24 much more likely to expect DNA tests than other groups (albeit those numbers are still small overall).

How aware are consumers of supermarket traceability initiatives?

A quarter of shoppers say they are hearing more about traceability these days, but only 17% say they recall seeing any advertising about meat traceability recently.

However, those who had seen adverts overwhelmingly (and correctly) identified M&S as the advertiser.

Which retailer do consumers think has the best traceability?

Possibly boosted by its advertising campaign around traceability, M&S was the retailer most frequently mentioned by respondents as having the best traceability on its meat. However, this question also attracted a high number of ‘don’t knows’, with a third of consumers unable to say which retailer is best in terms of traceability. 

While M&S comes out top in most regions, there are some notable exceptions, including Tesco coming ahead of M&S in Wales, and Morrisons coming ahead of both M&S and Tesco in the North East.

Click or tap here for more insight and analysis on our survey findings