The sales of pre-packaged sausages and bacon in the United Kingdom took a fall in the weeks after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued its report that linked processed meats to cancer, labeling them “carcinogenic to humans.”
According to market research firm IRI, total losses for sausages and bacon alone in the two weeks following WHO’s announcement in October are estimated to be approximately $4.5 million. IRI’s figures show sales for pre-packed sausages were down 15.7 percent for the week ending Oct. 31 when compared to the same week the previous year. Pre-packed bacon saw even sharper declines, down 17 percent, despite a 12-week decline of 6.5 percent and 52-week decline of 5.6 percent. The trend continued at a slightly lower rate in week two though other pre-packed meats also saw a decline in sales, down 10 percent overall.
Other meat products and associated food, such as eggs, were not negatively impacted, with overall spending on meat staying broadly consistent, suggesting that shoppers were switching to other meat products.
“While there have been links between certain types of meat and some forms of cancer before, this announcement from a highly respected global body was picked up widely by the media and has had an immediate impact on some people’s shopping choices,” says Martin Wood, head of strategic insight, retail solutions & innovation, IRI. “It’s interesting that we saw these trends across all of the retailers, not just some, and a notable lack of impact on items like eggs, fresh meat and other adjacent categories. Also, what came out of our analysis was that premium products were more affected overall. This may have been down to the credibility and science behind the story that resonated more with educated consumers and led them to make more informed (and possibly more expensive) alternative choices.”
On Oct. 26, the WHO declared that after a thorough review, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of WHO, decided to classify processed meats—meats that have been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation—as “carcinogenic to humans.” The agency was clear in its message adding experts concluded each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. The agency also classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” citing limited evidence it causes cancer, but strong evidence supporting red meat has a carcinogenic effect.
Following the announcement and subsequent headlines that elicited equal parts panic, outrage and confusion from consumers, scientists, food processors and everyone in between, WHO issued a clarification that seemed to soften the report’s blow.
“IARC’s review confirms the recommendation in WHO’s 2002 ‘Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases’ report, which advised people to moderate consumption of preserved meat to reduce the risk of cancer,” WHO said.
The organization further stated the latest report does not ask people to stop eating processed meats, but indicates reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.