RPT-French beef frozen meal sales continue to slide-Nielsen

Fri Mar 8, 2013 5:59am EST

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* Research firm says horsemeat scandal still hitting sales

* Beef frozen meal sales fall for 3rd week, 2 mln euros lost

* A third of beef frozen meal shoppers say to drop category

PARIS, March 8 (Reuters) - Sales in France of frozen meals made with beef fell sharply for a third straight week in the wake of a horsemeat scandal in Europe, bringing lost sales in the category to 2 million euros ($2.62 million), consumer research firm Nielsen said on Friday.

In a sign that the impact of the affair could be lasting, more than a third of French shoppers who usually buy beef-based frozen meals are saying they will no longer do so, Nielsen said.

France is among the countries affected by the discovery of horsemeat in products labelled as beef in an affair that has prompted investigations into Europe's complex food chain.

The French authorities are focusing on a probe into processing firm Spanghero that supplied horsemeat that ended up in frozen lasagne sold as made with beef.

In the week of February 18-24, supermarket sales of frozen meals made with beef were down 47 percent compared with the same period last year, Nielsen said in a statement.

This was a steeper decline than that estimated by fellow market researcher SymphonyIRI for the same week.

Nielsen said the latest drop followed a 45 percent fall in the week to Feb. 17 and an 18 percent drop in the week to Feb. 8, when the horsemeat affair spread to France.

Chilled ready meals with pasta and canned ravioli also continued to see sales fall, Nielsen said, reflecting concern over the detection of horsemeat in pasta products.

The firm did not say if other food categories had seen a rise in sales in parallel to the drop for some ready meals.

In addition to its sales estimates, based on supermarket checkout data, Nielsen published a consumer poll showing that 39 percent of regular buyers of beef frozen meals intend to stop purchasing such products. ($1 = 0.7644 euros) (Reporting by Gus Trompiz; editing by Muriel Boselli and Keiron Henderson)

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