The decline is now a major source of concern for the country’s poultry industry, which has countered the fall in sales by launching new multi-channel marketing campaigns. These are designed to reassure consumers about farming standards, quality control procedures, and the general safety of white meat sold in Norway shops and supermarkets.
Nortura - Norway’s biggest poultry producer - is leading the fight-back against negative publicity.
"We recognise that sales have dropped below what they were. There is no question but that this is the case. Negative media publicity has a role to play in this. Overall, I believe that the decline in sales represents a glitch, and that sales will bounce back to more normal levels," said Nortura spokesperson Ellen Flø Skagen.
The decline took root during the second half of 2014 following reports in Norway about the growing incidence of disease on poultry farms and bacteria in white meat products across Europe.
This resulted in the hatching of 1.6 million fewer chickens by Nortura in the final quarter of 2014, compared to the corresponding period in 2013. If the downward trend continues, Nortura estimates that it will deliver nine million fewer chickens in 2015 than in 2014.
Tests-based confirmation by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH/Folkehelseinstituttet) in December 2014 that Norwegian poultry was safe did however temporarily lift sales of chicken meat in the final weeks of December and up to the end of the first week of January, said Anne Margrethe Urdahl, a research scientist with the National Veterinary Institute (Norges Veterinærinstituttet).
However, a series of fresh negative reports on the poultry industry in January caused sales to go in to decline again. A report issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) noted that the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chicken was significantly higher in the European Union (EU) than in Norway, which remains outside the EU.
Urdahl hoped however that ultimately, the EU agency’s report "should serve to calm consumer fears about health safety around the consumption of Norwegian poultry products". This is because it praised Norway and other Nordic countries’ anti-microbial resistance standards. "We do not have the same problems with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in poultry. We use fewer drugs to combat viruses. This is to our advantage," said Urdahl.