Magazine article Marketing

Brand Health Check: Poultry

Magazine article Marketing

Brand Health Check: Poultry

Article excerpt

The spread of bird flu threatens a fresh crisis for the UK meat industry. Joanna Bowery asks how it should respond.

The UK chief medical officer's warning that up to 50,000 people in the UK could die from bird flu is unlikely to inspire the British public with confidence that the consumption of poultry is safe - particularly after so many other major food scares in the past 20 years.

Salmonella in eggs, the BSE crisis, foot and mouth disease and, most recently, the Sudan 1 food-dye scare have all had a major impact on food sales.

As bird flu spreads through Europe, it seems inevitable that consumers will veer away from chicken nuggets, crispy Peking duck and fried egg sandwiches. More worrying still for poultry farmers is the prospect of British consumers shunning the traditional roast turkey at Christmas.

The UK Food Standards Agency has stressed that outbreaks of bird flu elsewhere in Europe 'do not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers' and says the risk of catching the disease comes from direct contact with infected live birds, not through eating poultry.

But this seems at odds with the European Commission's move to ban imports of poultry meat and products as well as live birds from affected areas.

At the time of foot and mouth, consumers were generally aware that there was little risk of contracting the disease from eating meat. The furore surrounding the latest crisis, however, is more akin to that at the time of BSE, when the media was full of stories about humans being infected by animals.

If the poultry sector does not act swiftly to retain consumer confidence, there are fears that it will face huge losses. To illustrate the task it faces, one need look back only as far as 1990 when then-agriculture minister John Gummer fed a beefburger to his daughter to demonstrate his belief that the meat was free from BSE. The act grabbed the headlines, but failed to turn the tide of concern.

Supermarkets are leading the charge by putting up signs urging shoppers to buy UK poultry products, in an effort to head off any boycott. However, this may work only until bird flu reaches Britain.

So, what should the poultry sector do to avoid a crisis of confidence among consumers in the run-up to Christmas?

We asked Chris Lamb, consumer marketing manager of the Meat and Livestock Commission, and Richard Morris, business development director at DDB London, which has worked with the UK Food Standards Agency, for their advice.

DIAGNOSIS 1

CHRIS LAMB, CONSUMER MKTG MANAGER, MEAT AND LIVESTOCK COMMISSION

Who can forget BSE? The cattle disease reached its peak in 1992 and, fortunately, has shown a steady decline since. What effect did it have on beef sales?

By 1999 they had recovered to pre-BSE levels and are still growing today. …

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