Peter Marks, CEO of the Co-Op, could not have put it more plainly when questioned about where the buck stopped with the horsemeat scandal: “Food retailers can’t duck this. We can’t blame the Government. We can’t blame the regulator (the FSA). We can’t blame our suppliers. When we sell product in our shops, it’s our responsibility”. Thus a breath of fresh air in the fog of obfuscation.
Marks was spot on. The retailers specify their own products, whether premium price or bargain basement lines. The packaging bears their name. And if it doesn’t bear their name, they should damn well make it a priority to make sure that whatever other brand they put in the chiller cabinet is of an equally acceptable quality. No ifs, no buts, no blame shifting.
Equally, when horseflesh is found to be present in supermarket products, there should be no attempt at evasion. Sadly, when Malcolm Walker, CEO of Iceland, appeared before the inquisition of Eddie Mair on The Andy Marr Show (tm) this morning, he had not so much as seen the hymn sheet, so was not even going to consider singing from it.
It wasn’t the supermarkets’ fault, according to him. No horseflesh, he believed, had been found in any Iceland products, and nor had it been found in any other supermarket offerings. This is weapons grade bullshit: apart from Findus lasagne, Tesco, Aldi and Lidl products were found to contain horsemeat. Asda and – yes, Iceland – also withdrew products that were found to contain horse DNA.
Walker is arguing that this is mere cross-contamination, and instead has tried to dump responsibility for the whole affair onto local Government. They, and the catering trade, he asserted, were where prices were driven down and therefore reliability of ingredients was likely to be compromised. Sadly, though, this too was total crap, and the argument has already unravelled.
Local authorities do not procure food for hospitals, as he inferred. Nor do they have anything to do with purchasing food for the prison service, another of his targets. Many no longer have any link with all state schools in their area, and nor do most even run their own catering facilities. The Local Government Association (LGA) has attempted to point this out, but Walker’s smear has spread.
And, on top of all that, he had the brass neck to tell that Iceland does “not sell cheap food”. Hell’s teeth. He ought to look at some of his own advertising, and sharpish. That’s one retail destination in Crewe that I won’t be visiting any time soon.
As for the Co-Op, though ... their CEO’s candour is an excellent selling point.