Despite both sales and survey data suggesting significant behaviour change in terms of the purchase and consumption of processed / frozen meat products, a recent poll from Mustard suggests that the majority of people have ‘moved on’ from an attitudinal perspective.

Horse meat market research

Prevailing attitudes include “It was serious at the time but we’ve all moved on” (30%) and “It was just a storm in a teacup” (20%) – suggests that for some, with the benefit of hindsight, there was a big fuss over nothing. Underlining this point, younger Britons (those aged 18-34) show a greater inclination to agree with statements such as “I can’t really remember what it was all about” (14%) and “It was all quite funny really” (12%) – suggesting there was very little to forgive, let alone forget.

The key statement in our poll – “It was a shocking scandal, those responsible should be held accountable” – saw two-thirds (66%) disagree and one-third (34%) agree. Some underlying anger certainly remains, but for many the issue has clearly passed.

Other findings from Mustard’s poll of over 1,400 UK consumers closely echo research and sales data published by the BBC earlier this week, particularly in relation to their shopping and eating habits.

Around one in three Britons in our poll said their consumption and purchasing behaviour has changed since the horsemeat scandal last year, with 16% of the audience saying “It has made a big difference to what I buy / eat and where I buy it from”.

For more than half, the controversy had zero impact on behaviour – they either continued to eat frozen / processed meat products (34%) or claimed to have never have eaten frozen / processed meat products in the first place (22%). Consistent with other research, there is also a significant number (12%) who admit it did affect their behaviour at the time, but are now shopping and eating as they were before the news broke. This behaviour is evident in the sales data.

As traces (of various degrees) of horse meat was found in beefburgers stocked by some UK supermarkets, sales of frozen ready meals and burgers did indeed plummet. Kantar data suggests a year-on-year fall in sales in March / April 2012 of -41% for frozen burgers, and double-digit decline for frozen ready meals over the same period. But sales did recover, and (as reported earlier this week) for the 12 weeks to 8 December 2013, burger sales were down just 1% compared with the same period in 2012 – although frozen ready meals remain 6% down (with frozen beef -11% year-on-year).

From a manufacturer and retailer perspective, it is critical that insight retains a central role in understanding the impact of this crisis on brand perception. This is classic brand alignment territory – where clear evidence points to brand reputations being built or destroyed more by their actions (what they do and what they don’t do), rather than by what they say.

Tools such as the Brand Vista / Mustard collaboration the Brand Alignment Monitor™ (BAM™) play a key role in allowing a thorough understanding of this, as well as following trends and influencers through social media, and understanding changes in the decision making / shopping process through ethnographic / observational techniques.

Finally, as the Chinese New Year approaches at the end of the month, let’s hope 2014 is the Year of the Horse for reasons other than food crime.