UK sales of pre-packed sausages and bacon have fallen after a report linked processed meat with cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, said last month that consumption of processed meat, such as bacon, sausages and ham, causes cancer and that red meat was “probably carcinogenic.”
Now, retail data from market research firm IRI shows that British supermarkets saw a clear impact on sales.
Across all of the major grocery chains, sales of pre-packed sausages and bacon fell by about 10 percent. Total losses for these items are estimated at around £3 million ($4.5 million) in the two weeks after the report was released.
Other pre-packed meats saw a similar decline in sales, although overall spending on meat stayed more or less unchanged, suggesting that consumers switched 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,” commented Martin Wood, head of Strategic Insight, Retail Solutions & Innovation at 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.”
IRI believes that the long-term impact of the IARC report will be different from that of the horse meat 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 horse meat. This impacted particular brands, and retailers and there was a big short-term drop in sales. Higher quality products benefited,” Wood noted.
“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.”