Where were you when you heard the news?Raising a glass of water to your suddenly aghast mouth, before it slipped from motionless fingers and crashed to the ground in slow motion? Midway through a haircut, when the barber suddenly unplugged his electric razor and dialled up the volume on the radio news?God forbid you were alone and around sharp objects or intoxicating substances. No one should have had to handle that kind of devastation without some sort of emotional support.
It's been less than three months since the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Agency for Research on Cancer released their report ranking processed meats alongside cigarettes as a major cancer cause, but the impact is still being felt.
Austria's food minister called bullshit, the Spanish meat sector shot back with "extensive scientific evidence to prove the benefits of meat consumption," and Italy's Parma Ham Consortium distanced themselves from the whole thing with a scathing FYI that noted: "Prosciutto di Parma isn't a processed meat or a sausage but a product that is matured over a long period of time."If you mess with deli meat and double bacon cheeseburgers, you mess with us.Despite such international outcry, it seems that many British shoppers have taken heed of the WHO's cancer warnings.Yesterday, it was revealed that UK supermarkets saw a £3 million drop in sales of sausages and bacon in the two weeks following the report's publication.Released by retail analysts IRI Retail Advantage, figures show that sales of prepacked sausages were down by 15.7 percent at the end of October. Bacon took an even worse hit, with sales down by 17 percent.The following week and things were much the same. Despite it being around Bonfire Night (prime bangers and mash time), sausage sales were down by 13.9 percent. Sales of bacon saw a similar decrease of 16.5 percent and other prepackaged meats had declining sales of 10 percent overall.
Three weeks after the WHO report and things still hadn't picked up, with IRI Retail Advantage noting that compared with sales last year, bacon was down by 15.2 percent and sausages by 13.5 percent.Of course, the WHO report wasn't the first to note a link between cancer and red meat consumption and few of us will have needed an official announcement to realise that grease-laden, salt-smothered animal products probably aren't that great for our insides.But according to IRI head of strategic insight-retail Martin Wood, what caused this noticeable impact on meat sales was the fact that the WHO is a "highly respected global body."He said: "This announcement […] was picked up widely by the media and has had an immediate impact on some people's shopping choices. It's interesting that we saw these trends across all of the retailers, not just some."Before the report's release, many meat industry figures warned that branding meat as carcinogenic would impact sales, with Betsy Booren at the North American Meat Institute saying: "that moniker will stick … It could take decades and billions of dollars to change that."
But just because people aren't buying bacon doesn't mean they're switching to falafel or getting really into the Linda McCartney frozen range. Wood also noted that overall spending on fresh meat and other products such as eggs had stayed pretty consistent, leading IRI to conclude that shoppers may be swapping certain meat products for alternative options.He added: "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."OK, so we're not all nut roast-wielding, tempeh-marinading vegans just yet but we are at least thinking twice before face-planting our BLT sandwiches.