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Processed meat cancer scare hits sales of sausages and bacon - UK

| International retailers

Latest retail data from IRI shows that sales of pre-packed sausages and bacon fell significantly following the recent publication of a report by World Health Organisation that stated that processed meats can cause cancer.

IRI’s Retail Advantage weekly data, which measures sales across all of the major grocery multiples, for the week of the announcement (w/e 31 October) and the following week (w/e 7 November) shows a clear impact on sales, with total losses for sausages and bacon alone estimated to be in the region of £3m over the two weeks. 

According to IRI’s figures, value sales for pre-packed sausages were down 15.7% for w/e 31 October compared to the same week the previous year, despite a 12-week decline of 5.6% and 52-week decline of 3.1%. Pre-packed bacon saw even sharper declines, down 17%, despite a 12-week decline of 6.5% and 52-week decline of 5.6%. This equates to an incremental fall in sales of about 10% due to the scare. 

The trend in week 2 (w/e 7 November) continued at the same rate for bacon, down 16.5%, but slightly less for sausages – heavily promoted by some retailers during bonfire week – down 13.9%. Other pre-packed meats also saw a decline in sales, down 10% overall. Other meat products and associated food, such as eggs, were not negatively impacted, with overall spending on meat staying broadly consistent, suggesting that shoppers were switching to other meat products. 

“While there have been links between certain types of meat and some forms of cancer before, this announcement from a highly respected global body was picked up widely by the media and has had an immediate impact on some people’s shopping choices,” according to Martin Wood, Head of Strategic Insight, Retail Solutions & Innovation, IRI. 

“It’s interesting that we saw these trends across all of the retailers, not just some, and a notable lack of impact on items like eggs, fresh meat and other adjacent categories. Also, what came out of our analysis was that premium products were more affected overall. This may have been down to the credibility and science behind the story that resonated more with educated consumers and led them to make more informed (and possibly more expensive) alternative choices.” 

However, IRI believes the long-term impact will be different to the horsemeat scandal of 2013. “What we saw a few years ago was a situation where some economy ready meals and other products were found to be contaminated by horsemeat. This impacted particular brands and retailers and there was a big short-term drop in sales. Higher quality products benefited,” according to Wood. 

“What we may see here is some people making changes to meat buying, moving away from processed meat to non-processed alternatives. This is an opportunity for retailers to look at their ranges and focus on non-processed products, like premium mince and fresh burgers, for example, as well as premium and smoked non-meat products like fish. However it is still early days.”





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