US food irradiation specialists Surebeam and Food Technology have both announced quarterly results which indicate that, despite the recent E. coli outbreaks, uptake of irradiation is still not widely accepted in the US.
Food Technology announced that its total revenue for the first three quarters of 2002 was $919,157 (€923,813) compared to $1,062,506 for the same period in 2001. The figure represented a decrease of about thirteen per cent compared to the same period in 2001. The company lost $150,350 during the first three quarters of 2002 compared to a profit of $109,645 during the same period in 2001.
Meanwhile results for the much larger Surebeam technology operations were equally disappointing. Total revenues for the first three quarters of 2002 were $24.8 million, a decrease of 16 per cent compared to $29.6 million for the same period in 2001. This meant a net loss for the nine-month period of $25.1 million compared to a net loss of $57.5 million.
However, despite the losses, both companies remain bullish about the future, hedging their bets that a summer of meat recalls due to E. coli poisoning will help to boost business.
Food Technology CEO Dr. Richard Hunter said: "Our decreased earnings continue to reflect the temporary departure of a large, non-food customer that uses our services on an intermittent basis. This customer has indicated that they will return during the first quarter of 2003. I am confident that their impact on revenues during the fourth quarter will be tempered by the irradiation of frozen ground beef and chicken products for grocery customers."
Meanwhile Surebeam has made a number of agreements to supply its irradiated meats to supermarket chains across the US, and says that it expects business to increase further during the course of the next year.
Larry Oberkfell, SureBeam CEO said: "Beginning in late September, SureBeam's momentum began to accelerate in the US marketplace with our increasing number of rollouts with our retail partners. This is being driven in part by the growing consumer demand for food safety due to the recent meat recalls, as well as the USDA's own admission that E. coli is more prevalent in ground beef than originally thought." Oberkfell continued, "because of these factors, we see demand for our technology growing."
Whatever happens, the year ahead will be an interesting one for the food irradiation business, and one that will be keenly observed by irradiation players in Europe, where irradiation of food is still severely restricted.