‘Appeal of ready meals has sunk since horsegate’

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People in Yorkshire and the Humber have lost trust in ready meals and are increasingly turning to food products which boast high welfare standards on their labels, new survey results reveal.

Half of the region’s respondents to the survey, which was carried out by YouGov on behalf of the RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme, said that their trust in pre-prepared food, such as ready meals, had decreased since the horsemeat scandal hit the headline at the start of the year.

An estimated £3.8bn was spent on ready meals, pies and pasties last year in Britain alone, according to data from market research firm Mintel.

The results of the Freedom Food survey also show that some 82 per cent of people in the region would ideally prefer to cook from scratch on a regular basis, with only one in ten claiming that they would rather serve ready meals or pre-prepared food at the dinner table.

In total, some 2,008 adults participated in the survey, including 201 adults from Yorkshire and the Humber.

David Squair, acting chief executive officer of Freedom Food, said: “We do believe that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned and interested in the provenance of their food. And in general, the growth in ethical food consumption would confirm this.

“Our own scheme has seen significant growth and this is driven by consumer demand. The amount of food bearing the Freedom Food logo has increased 36 per cent over the last three years, with the largest growth in new labelled products in the value-added sector.”

Another 12 per cent rise in the quantity of food products carrying the Freedom Food logo is expected this year, Mr Squair added.

Findings from the higher welfare scheme’s survey follow the publication of a National Audit Office report this month which reveals that one in six food products tested for the presence of undeclared species failed laboratory tests last year. Local authorities reported 1,380 cases of food fraud in 2012 – up by two-thirds since 2010.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The January 2013 horsemeat incident has revealed a gap between what citizens expect of the controls over the authenticity of their food, and the effectiveness of those controls in reality.

“The division of responsibilities for food safety and authenticity has created confusion. The Government needs to remove this confusion, and improve its understanding of potential food fraud and how intelligence is brought together and shared.”