THE buying habits of consumers are set to be transformed by the horsemeat scandal, new research suggests.
Almost one quarter (24 per cent) of shoppers will buy less processed meat, and more than a fifth (21 per cent) have already started buying less meat in general, according to the findings gathered from a survey by researchers at Consumer Intelligence.
The research also found that about 4.1 million people who previously bought processed meat said they would stop doing so altogether.
The effect of the scandal on unprocessed meat sales is less clear, with 25 per cent of people saying they would now buy more unprocessed meat like joints, chops or steaks instead of processed meats.
A further 19 per cent would like to do that, but said they could not afford to.
Vegetarianism seems set for a boost, with 6 per cent of adults claiming they know someone who has turned vegetarian as a result of the crisis, the survey said.
The scandal has significantly eroded public trust in the food they buy, as 67 per cent of respondents, equivalent to more than 32 million people, said they now trusted food labels less than before. And 62 per cent said they were now more likely to buy their meat from independent butchers.
Not all consumers have been put off by the scandal, however, as around 12 million people (25 per cent) would knowingly eat horse meat and a further 16 million (33 per cent) would consider doing so, compared with the 20 million people (42 per cent) who say they would not eat it at all.
David Black of Consumer Intelligence said: “Our findings show that this scandal has really hit consumers hard, be it through having to change their shopping habits or altering the fundamentals of their diet.
“The main issue is about being able to trust that what the label says you’re eating is what you’re actually eating.
“There are both winners and losers in the fallout from the scandal and there will be a massive and costly fight by the big brands to regain consumer trust, all to the benefit of the friendly neighbourhood butcher and their local economy.
“The results of the survey also show significant changes in where those who will continue to buy processed meat will now do so.”
The survey was completed by 2,257 British adults and comparative figures are based on the UK population aged 20 or over being 48,085,000.
The latest poll comes just days after a survey found one in three people has already been put off buying meat-based ready meals since contamination was first discovered a month ago.
The Kantar survey of 6,000 consumers revealed that just over a third (36 per cent) was less likely to buy processed meat as a result of the growing revelations over contaminated products.
Although a further third said the issue would not make any difference to their weekly shop, about one in ten (13 per cent) said they would switch to more locally sourced meat in future.