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Business News

Whitbread calls for new approach to food supply

The chief executive of Whitbread, the owner of the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurant chains, has called for a massive shake-up of the food supply chain in the wake of the horse meat scandal.

Andy Harrison said: "At the moment, we have a complete patchwork of certification involving the European Commission, Defra, the Food Standards Agency down to local authorities and trading standards.

"We need a much stronger regulatory framework across the industry which is tougher and more consistent," he added. "It's a European-wide issue with clear elements of fraud."

Whitbread admitted two weeks ago that traces of horse DNA had been found in its beefburgers and meat lasagnes.

Mr Harrison said the products had been withdrawn immediately and "a lot of management effort" had been put into improving the traceability of its products. Burgers sourced from Northern Irish beef cattle would be back on the menu in four or five days, he added.

Whitbread said it had seen little effect on business, with its restaurants "trading well". Mr Harrison said: "Customers have changed what they order, and we have seen sales of chicken products up by 5 to 10 per cent in the last couple of weeks.

"We expect most of the costs to be borne by our suppliers. In the longer term, this does not necessarily mean prices will rise for customers. In fact, better quality control often goes hand in hand with improved efficiency."

Whitbread said it was still on course to hit City profit expectations for the financial year that ends tomorrow.

It said overall like-for-like sales rose 2.7 per cent in the final quarter, pushing growth for the year to 3.7 per cent. Sales at the Costa coffee chain rose 5.5 per cent from branches open at least a year. Premier Inn sales rose 2.9 per cent.