Sales of supermarket rotisserie chickens have dropped since VAT was applied last year, it was revealed on Thursday.

Since the price rise on 1 October, sales have fallen 18%, meaning 3.2 million fewer chickens were sold over the period. 

The tax has added 90p to the price of an average chicken, which has risen to £5.55. Retailers claim that most consumers eat the chickens cold at home, so they do not deserve to attract the new tax, which was intended to apply to hot takeaway food.

“We know that 70% of rotisserie customers actually consume their purchase cold, so this is unfairly penalising them,” said Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council. Campaigners claim the change has also damaged British poultry farmers, since the vast majority of the rotisserie chickens sold are British.

Morrisons has been a particularly vocal opponent of the new tax. Their petition against it has attracted 50,000 signatures and will be handed in to the government prior to the Budget on 20 March.

“We know that 70% of rotisserie customers actually consume their purchase cold, so this is unfairly penalising them” - Peter Bradnock, British Poultry Council

“We urged the government to reconsider this unfair tax on customers who don’t even eat rotisserie chicken as a takeaway item. Not only does it cost shoppers more at a time when finances are already tight, there is clear evidence that the tax is also hurting British farmers,” said Morrisons’ fresh food director Jamie Winter.

The tax hike is a leftover from the ‘pasty tax’ introduced in last year’s Budget. Following a high-profile public campaign, pasties and sausage rolls were exempted from the tax, as long as they are left to cool after heating.

A poll by parenting website NetMums conducted at the time the tax was introduced suggested that 86% of those who responded eat ready-cooked supermarket chickens. Three in every four mums responding to the poll said they buy rotisserie chicken when they want a nutritious family meal but are short on time.

Campaigners have questioned why the government has exempted some generally unhealthy products from the tax, while raising the price of healthier chicken. “This proposed tax on roast chickens isn’t targeting junk food or unhealthy snacks, but will make it harder for families to put a wholesome hot meal on the table,” said NetMums founder Siobhan Freegard at the time.

Some retailers have been selling the roast chickens cold so that they do not attract the tax, but have encountered problems with shelf life, as cold roast chicken cannot be safely kept for long.