Nearly a quarter of consumers believe they could catch avian flu from eating chicken, according to new research seen exclusively by The Grocer.
In a survey of 1,000 shoppers, carried out late last month at the height of the media frenzy about the spread of the disease, 100% said they were aware of the issue, with 71% believing that avian flu posed a threat to human beings.
But while 54% of those questioned agreed that cooking poultry correctly would ensure that their food was safe, 22% feared that bird flu could be contracted by the
consumption of contaminated meat.
Researcher MarketTools, which conducted the survey, also found that 6% of consumers asked said they were already eating less chicken than they did four weeks earlier, citing concerns over avian flu as the reason for this.
And 21%, mostly young women with children, said they expected to reduce their consumption of poultry meat because of bird flu.
Giles Shapley, business development director at MarketTools, claimed parallels could be drawn between consumers’ reaction to bird flu and that to BSE in the early 1990s. “Back then around a fifth of consumers - mostly young housewives with kids - moved away from beef,” he said.
The survey makes grim reading for the industry, which fears that sales of poultry meat and eggs will collapse.
Industry promotional body British Chicken Marketing last week launched a PR charm offensive in a bid to convince consumers that chicken is safe to eat. There is no scientific evidence that avian flu can be spread by coming into contact with raw poultry meat.
MarketTools said it hoped to run the same research at the end of this month, so it can track consumer attitudes as the avian flu story develops.
Richard Clarke