Mike Coupe, group commercial director, Sainsbury’s, and this week’s guest editor of The Grocer

For anyone still in any doubt as to the broader repercussions of the horse meat scandal, The Grocer’s consumer research is startlingly clear: since the results of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s tests were made public in mid-January, trust in the industry has been greatly impacted.

With every day seemingly bringing more questions than answers, the long-term impact on how consumers feel about the food on their plate - and the people who delivered it - is yet to be fully understood, but cannot be underestimated.

This is not simply an issue of individual products, individual suppliers or indeed individual retailers. It is an issue for all involved in food. The retail sector in particular is famous for its fierce rivalry. Generally, competition leads to better value, quality and service, and widespread innovation, as we chase the hard-won custom of Britain’s savvy shoppers.

“Ultimately we will be judged by our collective and swift action”
Mike Coupe, group commercial director, Sainsbury’s, and this week’s guest editor of The Grocer

However this is an issue upon which those longstanding battlelines need to be redrawn as we work together, across retail and other sectors - brands, foodservice and government - to ensure that once the facts are fully established we can regain consumer trust and rebuild consumer confidence. We need to proceed with determination, and co-operate across our usual boundaries, to get to the bottom of this. While the first weeks of the issue were characterised by companies working independently, the future must be about working together.

The industry is working tirelessly to play its part with the government and FSA. We are undertaking the most extensive testing programme ever seen to resolve this issue and will be open and transparent about the findings. It was good to see that recognised by Mary Creaghy MP, the shadow environment secretary, who praised retailers in particular for acting with “speed and transparency”. These should be our watch words: events are still unfolding, but we and our regulatory bodies need to proceed calmly but swiftly to get to the bottom of this.

Nobody knows yet what conclusions the FSA investigation will come to but we do know consumer trust in beef has fallen. We will all have to redouble our efforts to regain this.