I’m sure our readers can’t failed to have noticed the scandal involving horse meat being passed off as beef, which began in Britain, but is slowly engulfing the rest of Europe and indeed the world, although in South Africa no horse was found but they did discover traces of water buffalo, goat and donkey.
I think the diamond industry can learn lessons and indeed draw some comfort from the consumer’s reaction to being sold one thing when they thought they were getting something else.
It is always hard to know how to work out how the general public, and we can all give thanks to our god that we are not one of them, will react to a given situation.
Economists often try to model this using the notion of the “Rational Economic Man”, but often what should happen in theory bears no relation to what happens in practise.
In the case of the meat scandal, rational economic man would think along the lines of I like beef, I can’t tell the difference between beef and horse, horse is half the price, I’ll have a horse burger please.
What actually seems to be happening is that the majority are continuing to purchase cheap beef products as before, assuming that the supply chain has already been tightened or that they are not going to be one of the one per cent or so who don’t get beef. A minority have concluded that it is better to move more upmarket and pay more to suppliers where the source can be guaranteed.
So what would be consumers reaction be if diamonds being sold as natural were discovered to be cultured? While cultured diamonds, like chevalier restaurants will continue to serve a niche market, the mainstream is unlikely to say, “I can’t tell the difference sell me synthetic”, most will assume that the supply chain has been tightened, while a few will move further upmarket to suppliers who can prove provenance from mine to market.
What must the industry do if substitution is discovered?
Firstly, the consumer must be reimbursed immediately and fully by the retailers. It is noticeable that in the meat crisis, the supermarkets, who were after all victims of fraud, have received no public sympathy.
There must be reassurance that any remaining stocks are what they say they are, and there must be exhaustive criminal investigations to identify and punish the culprits.
The facility must exist for those who want further reassurance and are willing to pay a bit extra, that extra assurance can be given, either through full pipeline monitoring or quick and easy in store testing.
Finally, for those who wish to fulfil the niche market for cultured goods should be encouraged on the understanding that the two products are not mixed. After all, diners at the chevalier would be upset to find they had been eating beef.