Frozen dishes sales collapse in France, seen lasting

PARIS, March 4 Mon Mar 4, 2013 1:43pm EST

PARIS, March 4 (Reuters) - Sales of frozen meat-based prepared meals such as lasagna fell by nearly 30 percent in France after the horsemeat scandal and are showing no sign of recovery, market research firm SymphonyIRI said on Monday.

From February 11-17, soon after horsemeat was found instead of beef in a frozen lasagna in Britain, sales of pasta and meat-based frozen dishes including lasagna, moussaka and shepherd's pie, dropped 26 percent compared to the same week in 2012.

They fell even further the following week, down 28 percent compared with the previous year, according to data collected in more than 6,000 French supermarkets.

"People are continuing in the same trend as they did in the first week," Jacques Dupre, head of research at SymphonyIRI told Reuters, adding he thought the trend would last in the short-term.

"The feeling of insecurity and fear of food products' composition can only continue given the media attention, the crisis' geographical expansion and technological expansion."

Europe's horsemeat scandal began in January after testing in Ireland showed some beef products also contained equine genetic material. It arrived in France when it appeared that a French firm was at the heart of the scandal.

Since then, it has spread across Europe, ensnaring numerous well-known brands, prompting product withdrawals, consumer concerns and government investigations into the region's complex food-processing chains.

Dupre said overall sales of frozen ready meals recovered slightly from the first week after the burst of the scandal, driven by sales of fish-based dishes, whose sales have stabilized and pizza sales which rose 2 percent compared to the same period last year. Overall sales of ready meals were still down 17 percent on year.

The horsemeat crisis also impacted canned food sales, a trend which could worsen after the discovery of horse meat in French raviolis, Dupre said. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by James Jukwey)

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