Tesco has been worst hit by the slump in sales of frozen ready meals, the sector at the centre of the horsemeat scandal, exclusive research for The Grocer has revealed.

The retailer has suffered a 14.4% value decline, worth £14.2m in lost sales. That’s almost as much as the rest of the big four’s combined loss of £15.9m, and well over a third of the market’s overall £35.7m decline.

Research by Kantar Worldpanel found frozen ready meal sales have crashed 7.4% on volumes down 7.9% [52 w/e 8 December 2013], a marked deterioration on the previous year, when value sales climbed 2.2% on volumes down 3.5%.

Brands have claimed the discovery of horsemeat in several frozen ready meals last January - including Tesco own label, Findus and Birds Eye products - caused the category’s decline to accelerate.

“It exacerbated an existing problem of perceived quality and commoditisation,” said Pete Johnson, Birds Eye senior brand manager. “It was a trigger for consumers to leave the category.”

Not all ready meal players have suffered, however. Bisto, which extended its frozen ready meals range last March, has enjoyed 61.9% growth on volumes up 46% [IRI].

Premium chilled brand Charlie Bigham’s has also prospered, with value up 22.8% on volumes up 9.9%. “The horsemeat scandal had a positive impact on businesses like ours as it made consumers question the true cost and quality of food,” said founder Charlie Bigham.

Tesco Finest chilled ready meals have also grown, by 18.3% in value terms, in the past year [Kantar].