It was an Irish company that dragged Birds Eye into ‘Horsegate’, but the frozen foods giant’s confidence in Irish meat remains strong - committing to 100% Irish and British sourcing for all its red meat lines.
The new sourcing policy will apply to Birds Eye burgers from this month, with ready meals to follow later in the year. All its red meat lines will convert to British and Irish meat by the first quarter of 2014, and flagging up the move with front-of-pack flashes.
Birds Eye was caught up in the horsemeat scandal when three of its ready meals - shepherd’s pie, lasagne and spaghetti bolognese - tested positive for horse DNA. The company traced the source of the contamination back to an Irish company, QK Meats, but Birds Eye UK and Ireland MD Andy Weston-Webb said this did not mean there were wider problems with Irish meat.
“The problem wasn’t Irish. It was a company rather than a provenance issue”
Andy Weston-Webb, Birds Eye
“The problem wasn’t Irish. It was a company rather than a provenance issue.”
Birds Eye had not seen any evidence consumers were concerned about Irish meat, and was committing to both Irish and British because its brand was sold in the UK and Ireland, he added.
The horsemeat scandal was a “wake-up call” for Birds Eye and the industry, Weston-Webb added, and although consumers had trusted the brand throughout the crisis, moving to 100% Irish and British would reinforce that trust. It would also make supply chains shorter, “and in the case of beef that is probably beneficial”.
Birds Eye sells about 100 million frozen burgers in the UK and Ireland a year, with red meat lines worth £30m at retail. Weston-Webb was unable to say how much red meat had previously been sourced from non-UK and non-Irish sources, as it varied depending on availability.