Food businesses and retailers be warned. Consumers are likely to make mincemeat of those firms that horse around with their food by misrepresenting ingredients and mislabelling products.
The UK horsemeat scandal has highlighted the risk that similar abuses may exist here.
We rapidly learned that locally conducted DNA tests indicated that our meat products might contain donkey while springbok and ostrich biltong might actually be made of kangaroo meat, among other substances.
Stricter labelling regulations have been in force in South Africa for a year, but mandatory food testing is not yet conducted as a matter of course. This does not mean suppliers can get away with dodgy or sloppy practices.
Some large companies committed to sustainable business practices could easily carry out tests to audit supplier quality. Alternatively, lobby groups or scientific researchers could run their own tests.
After all, work by the Western Cape's DNA Forensics Lab and tests by Stellenbosch University quickly spotlighted mislabelling abuses here in South Africa and raised concerns about what really goes into some of our processed meats.
I predict that South Africa's food, foodservice, restaurant and retailing sectors will be hit by scandal, if not immediately, then in the medium or long term. It's not a question of if, but when.
Sensible management strategy
The sensible management strategy is to be proactive. Vulnerable companies should step up their quality assurance now, not wait until a scandal breaks. Suppliers should be monitored and inspections carried out wherever possible.
When a scandal hits the media, a company must be able to demonstrate that it did everything possible to protect its customers.
'Scandal-planning' should be undertaken to ensure company spokesmen are able to deal effectively with the public and press. The strategy has to be based on full and prompt disclosure and total cooperation with the media, consumer groups and the authorities.
In some cases it may be advisable to review supply arrangements. European experience indicates the food supply chain can be long, complex and very murky.
Local sourcing involving suppliers close enough to monitor is one alternative. Local sources also cut 'food miles' and reduce costs. Local can be lekker. We've recently seen the high street butcher come back into vogue in the UK as housewives flock to local shops they can trust.
Deserve and preserve the consumer's trust. You can't horse around with a customer's food. They will make mincemeat of you by shunning your brand for years to come.
Aki Kalliatakis is the Managing Partner of The Leadership LaunchPad, a business focused on customer loyalty and radical marketing. Contact him on +27 (0)83 379 3466, +27 (0)11 640-3958 or . Follow @akikalliatakis on Twitter.
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