TNS data reveals that in the four weeks to November 6, when TV, press and radio coverage of bird flu peaked, value sales of poultry meat fell 6.1% to £263m against the same period in 2004.
Total chicken sales fell 6.7% to £230m, with fresh chicken sales down 4.9% to £156m.
Volumes did not plummet so dramatically, but total poultry sales still fell back 4.1%. By the same measure, total chicken was down 4.4%, with fresh
chicken down 2.6%.
These figures appear to confirm the poultry sector’s worst fears - that many consumers were turned off buying poultry meat by news coverage of avian flu.
And they contrast with claims made by the poultry industry during the scare that sales were holding firm.
The dip in poultry sales came in spite of an urgent PR offensive by the industry promotional body British Chicken Marketing to reassure consumers that poultry meat was safe to eat.
The assessment by TNS that chicken sales fell 6.7% tallies almost exactly with a separate survey of consumer attitudes carried out by another research agency, MarketTools.
This showed that 6% of consumers, quizzed towards the end of October, admitted they were eating less chicken than usual because of concerns surrounding bird flu [The Grocer, November 5, p52].
Sainsbury chief executive Justin King confirmed this week that the retailer had observed a fall in poultry sales.
“Following avian flu, we’ve seen a slow down in the growth of poultry and further increases in beef and pork - and have bought our Christmas range accordingly. But we’re talking about one, two or three per cent of the market, not huge swings.”