Retailers in the UK and Ireland faced some difficult questions last week, when it emerged that horse and pig DNA had been discovered in beefburgers and “beef” ready meals.

The immediate outcry was driven by consumer concern over eating horse in particular, which is not a culturally acceptable meat in either market. Queue widespread media outrage (and some questionable puns).

The retailers involved – Tesco, Iceland, Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes Stores – all apologised and removed products from shelves. This was swiftly followed by other UK retailers – including Asda and Sainsbury’s – who used the same supplier and removed product as a “precautionary measure”.

While there was no threat to public health, the implications of this affair are nonetheless significant. Can consumers trust that food products are what they claim to be?

The net is purportedly closing in on those who sold the tainted meat to UK and Irish manufacturers. The product concerned is believed to have originated in the Netherlands or Spain. However, the topic is likely to remain a focus going forward as it has sparked a debate over traceability, regulation and reliability in the supply chain.

Confectioners Barry Ballebaut, Lindt & Sprüngli and Thorntons gave us reason to be cheerful, when they sweetened Europe’s business scene with strong sales across the board.

Lindt said its sales rose 7% during 2012. Early signs are that this was achieved without resorting to heavy discounting. Strong numbers, given the downbeat consumer sentiment across its key European markets.

Fellow Swiss chocolate group Barry Callebaut booked an 8.3% increase in sales volumes. Although value sales were down due to the company’s cost plus model, this too represents a strong sales performance. The B2B supplier has focused on expanding in emerging markets and a spokesperson for the group told just-food it expects its sales to be increasingly weighted to this high-growth area.

This is not to suggest that Barry Callebaut has taken its eyes off more developed markets, as was emphasised by this week’s acquisition of Scandinavian chocolate group ASM Foods. This deal provides Barry Callebaut with a strong foothold in the region, where it sees particular opportunity to develop outsourcing agreements given that 80% of chocolate is currently produced in-house.

Meanwhile, UK chocolatier Thorntons has continued to reap the benefits of its strategy re-think, which has seen it reduce the number of high street stores it operates while simultaneously boosting sales through its commercial arm. The move allowed Thorntons to report sales growth of 5.4% over the second-quarter, which includes key Christmas trading.

Talking to just-food, Thorntons CEO Jonathan Hart insisted that the group’s “self-help” initiatives were “beginning to pay off”.

These sales numbers could point to the health of the European confectionery sector. Perhaps, in these tough times, European consumers are looking to sweeten their moods by turning to chocolatey treats.

We will find out more on the outlook for confectioners in Europe next week. just-food will be bringing you exclusive news and views from ISM, the Cologne-based confectionery show and one of the sweet spots of the food industry calendar.

We would also like to hear more about your outlook for 2013. Do you expect the tough consumer environment to continue and what impact is this likely to have on your business?

If you could take a few minutes to complete the just-food confidence survey, found here, we would much appreciate it.

The findings will be presented in our first webinar of the year, to be held in February.