Latest figures from market intelligence firm IRI continued to show a downward trend three weeks after the publication of a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that classified processed meat as carcinogenic.
According to IRI Retail Advantage data, which measures sales across all of the major grocery multiples in the UK, sales of pre-packed bacon and sausages were down 15.2% and 13.5% respectively in the week ending 14 November versus 2014.
“This shows that the impact of the scare is still significant even in week three, with a slight sign of recovery on bacon, but still down nearly 10% more than the annual trend,” Martin Wood, head of strategic insight, retail solutions & innovation at IRI, told this publication.
The million dollar question
Asked whether he thought this was a sustained downward trend or a short-term dip, Wood replied: “We don’t know. There is already a sustained downward trend for bacon and sausages, so the question is: will the rate of decline decelerate back to the existing level or will it continue at the new rate?”
However, he predicted that the long term impact would be different to that of the horsemeat scandal of 2013, saying: “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 benefitted.”
He speculated that the current cancer scare may prompt some people to make changes to their meat buying habits, 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,” he said.
The market intelligence company estimated that £3 million (€4.3m) had been wiped off UK retail sales of bacon and sausages in the two weeks following the WHO report.
Value sales of pre-packed sausages slid 15.7% in the week that followed the announcement compared to the same week the previous year. Pre-packed bacon experienced even sharper declines, down 17%.
The downward trend continued into the second week at the same rate for bacon, but eased off slightly for sausages, which were down 13.9%.
IRI said this equated to an incremental fall in sales of about 10% as a direct result of the scare, when taking into account the annual trend.
Another observation from IRI was that premium products were more affected overall. The company said this may have been because the credibility and science behind the WHO report resonated more with educated consumers and led them to make more informed alternative choices.
A chance of recovery?
Even if the sales data since the WHO report is taken out of the equation, there is still no denying that processed meat is a category in trouble.
IRI data shows a 52-week decline of 3.1% for pre-packed sausages, and 5.6% for bacon.
In order to bring about a reversal of fortunes, Wood said that manufacturers of processed meat products needed to educate people to eat higher quality products in moderation as part of a balanced diet, where the actual risk is quite low.
“They should continue to promote the taste and ‘quality of life’ benefits of these products,”he said.