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Monday, February 18, 2013

Wolverhampton and other markets might just benefit from the horse meat scare.

The British are a strange lot. When others around the world eat horses we keep the animals for racing, pets, polo and fox-hunting. The horse and the plough went decades ago. We are conservative eaters compared with Europe.

Recent publicity about the mislabelling of meat in supermarkets and convenience food, throws up some interesting longer-term consequences. The traditional independent butcher has been hanging on for dear life. Now this adverse publicity may be just the help that is needed to ensure his survival.

We want to buy cheaply but we also want trust in the product. When you buy that bowl for a pound, at least you know what is in front of you. You can make a judgement and it is your call. What's in the beefburger or mince is another matter.

To expand the animal story, we don’t want to be sold a pup! Trust comes when you can eyeball the person across the counter. If you are sold badly one week, you won’t be back the next. Reputation counts.

Our diverse ethnic populations in the West Midlands have had a large hand in helping to keep our small-scale stall owners going. Just look at Wolverhampton market. We should be proud of it. Enterprising entrepreneurs see a niche market which giant superstores do not match. There is a certain intimacy and vibrant pleasure in walking the stalls and experiencing the colours and smells of what is offered.

There is a different relationship between customer and stall-owner. There is conversation that you don’t get in the supermarket. Quality, price and flexibility are the key issues, whilst the handing over of cash highlights the intimacy of the deal.

Nevertheless, empty stalls tell us not all is well. Wrong location, high rents and parking all play their part. Shoppers are tired of the boarded up town centres and, although their complete love affair with the supermarket is not likely to be broken off, the meat scandal is a public relations opportunity for stall-holders to capitalise  on.

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