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U.K. shoppers steer clear of frozen burgers after horsemeat scandal

A package of Birds Eye Beef Lasagne 400g is displayed in the freezer of a convenience store in London February 22, 2013. Frozen food maker Birds Eye said it would withdraw some products in Britain and Ireland.

LUKE MACGREGOR/Reuters

Britain's grocers have seen sales of frozen burgers and ready meals plummet in the wake of a scandal over the discovery of horsemeat in beef products, according to industry data published on Tuesday.

Market researcher Kantar Worldpanel said in the four weeks ending Feb. 17, frozen burger sales were down 43 per cent year-on-year and sales of frozen ready meals declined by 13 per cent.

The issue, which broke on Jan. 15, has only affected the products consumers buy rather than where they actually do their shopping, said Edward Garner, director at Kantar Worldpanel.

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The horsemeat scandal has spread across Europe since tests in Ireland last month revealed some beef products sold there and in Britain contained equine DNA.

Tesco, Britain's biggest grocer, saw its share of the grocery market fall to 29.7 per cent in the 12 weeks to Feb. 17.

Garner said it would be wrong to attribute this decline to the horsemeat scandal as in the same period last year Tesco had promoted heavily, offering consumers a £5 ($7.6 U.S.) voucher when they spent £40.

"Not repeating this offer will have adversely affected its share," he said.

In the 12-week period, only No. 3 grocer Sainsbury's increased its share, with a sales rise of 4.6 per cent.

No. 4 player Morrisons was the only major grocer to post a sales decline.

Upmarket grocer Waitrose and discounter Aldi delivered all-time record market shares this period of 4.8 per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively indicating that market polarisation is continuing.

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The total grocery market grew 3.7 per cent, lagging behind grocery price inflation of 4.3 per cent.

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