UK Markets closed

Burger Sales Plunge 43% Amid Horsemeat Scare

(c) Sky News 2013

Frozen beef burger and ready meal sales have plunged dramatically, according to the first retail sales data since the horsemeat scandal erupted.

Kantar Worldpanel said that in the four weeks ending February 17, frozen burger sales plunged by 43% while frozen ready meals dropped 13%.

While some of the decline can be directly attributed to consumers rejecting the products, there has also been an availability reduction as affected lines were progressively withdrawn by retailers.

Horsemeat contamination was first revealed on January 16 after analysis was undertaken by Irish food officials. The scandal has since spread across Europe.

A Nielsen consumer survey conducted two weeks ago showed that 96% of UK adults were aware of the horsemeat scandal and 74% were concerned about it.

According to Kantar, the latest research indicates a significant change in shopping habits as a result of the contamination.

The data also indicated changing fortunes of supermarkets during the 12 weeks to February 17.

It said out of the so-called Big Four supermarkets - Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury (LSE: SBRY.L - news) 's and Tesco (LSE: TSCO.L - news) - only Sainsbury's increased market share in the quarter.

Sainsbury's saw a growth rate of 4.6% in the period, while Tesco (Other OTC: TSCDY - news) saw its market share drop from 30.1% a year ago to 29.7% now.

Tesco was the first major retailer to withdraw its frozen burgers, after equine DNA was discovered in products produced by its meat processors.

"It might seem natural to attribute this decline to the horsemeat contamination; however, Tesco undertook heavy promotions this time last year, where consumers received a £5 voucher when they spent £40, and not repeating this offer will have adversely affected its share," Kantar Worldpanel director Edward Garner said.

Morrisons was the only retailer to post a sales decline in the 12 weeks, due in part to easing Christmas demand, a lack of convenience stores and no online presence.

It has since announced a decision to buy a swathe of Blockbuster video stores to convert into metro outlets.

Morrisons is also expected to bolster sales in the coming months as it is the only major UK supermarket with its own abattoir division, assuring meat supply chain integrity.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a growing split in the upper and lower edges of the market.

"Waitrose and Aldi deliver all-time record shares this period of 4.8% and 3.3% respectively indicating that market polarisation and the 'two nations' consumer climate continues," Mr Garner said.

"Iceland records 10.1% growth confirming that the frozen food category as a whole remains robust."

Research now shows that the total grocery market is growing at a rate of 3.7%, which lags behind grocery price sector inflation of 4.3%.

As a result, pressure continues on shoppers who are using 'coping strategies' to reduce their effective personal inflation rate.

These strategies include switching products and retailers to seek out offers.

More From Sky News