FMD: supermarkets show no sign of kicking discount habit Small reductions in price now proliferating after initial stockpiling by consumers Prices are in broad though more or less orderly retreat across the retail meat market, justifying the multiples' reluctance to buy far forward when the fmd outbreak caused sharp increases in consumer purchases and a severe squeeze on wholesale supply late last month. Taylor Nelson Sofres household consumption data for the four weeks to early March confirm the reports of shoppers at first behaving as if Christmas had returned and importers rationing product, but MLC's retail survey for the week to March 31 reveals small reductions in price proliferating. The only significant increase is on New Zealand loin chops, up over 10%. Sceptical traders watching the initial clamour had warned it could end in tears, reckoning demand was merely being pulled forward and stocks shifted from wholesale and retail into domestic freezers. Extra sales in February and March would be followed by disappointing checkout takings as shoppers began eating their strategic reserves. One clue now visible in the TNS figures and presumably accessible in the retailers' own data a month ago was the concentration of large expenditure increases relative to volume in the categories where the market had already been tight, or were the consumers' most logical choices for stockpiling. Lamb and pork prices rose sharply, and frozen ready meal purchases surged, whereas nothing happened in sliced cooked meats. Perhaps of most significance, and helping to explain the squabble between cattle finishers and abattoir operators, spending on beef only just outpaced the volume purchases. TNS beef data for the period between the beginning of the year and the start of the crisis show expenditure had been higher than in January 2000, but by less than the increase in the quantity purchased. This was why some British beef processors discreetly welcomed the fmd-induced scarcity. However, their hope the crisis would make supermarkets kick the discounting habit has been dashed, as the survey demonstrates. {{M/E MEAT }}