Country of origin is a much bigger driver in the purchase of meat than has been assumed, the MLC

has claimed.

In a survey released at the MLC Outlook conference this week, nearly a third of shoppers put it in their top five reasons for buying a specific meat product.

The findings debunk widely used IGD research that indicates consumers don't care where food comes from and is often applied to meat.

The 2005 IGD report, Connecting Consumers with Farming and Farm Produce, claimed just one in 10 cared about country of origin in food generally.

The MLC has used this comparison to show how attitudes to meat differ from attitudes to food.

"Far from being apathetic towards it, British shoppers say UK origin is important," said MLC chairman Peter Barr. "And, as our consumer research shows, many are willing to pay more for it."

That's because the survey also showed fewer people - 64% in the MLC survey - were concerned about the price of meat than about the price of food generally (72%). Price still topped the list of concerns in both surveys, but when it came to meat, appearance and the use-by date were nearly as important.

The survey also found quality marks played a bigger role in meat purchasing than food, with more than twice as much interest at 23%.

On the other hand, branding and taste were less important for meat. Only 45% said the taste of meat was important.

MLC marketing manager Richard Lowe said the IGD data had missed some of the nuances of the meat industry, but had informed retailers' views that Britishness alone could not sell food for the past two years. The research was recently cited by Sainsbury's boss Justin King at the Oxford Farming Conference.