Frozen burger sales are down by 43% and frozen ready meals by 13% in the wake of the horse meat contamination scandal despite consumers suggesting they would be happy to eat the product in future, new figures suggest.
Two polls have found a significant number of consumers would be happy to eat horse meat providing it was "safe" and properly labelled.
Figures from Kantar Worldpanel for the 12 weeks to February 17 reveal how consumers responded to the scandal which broke on January 16, showing that they changed the products they buy rather than where they shop.
Kantar Worldpanel director Edward Garner said: "The issue has so far only affected the performance of individual markets rather than where consumers are choosing to shop. For the four weeks ending February 17, frozen burger sales were down by 43% and frozen ready meals declined by 13%, clearly demonstrating a change in shopping habits.
"Tesco's share has come under pressure this period with a drop from 30.1% a year ago to 29.7% now. It might seem natural to attribute this decline to the horse meat contamination, however Tesco undertook heavy promotions this time last year, where consumers received a £5 voucher when they spent £40, and not repeating this offer will have adversely affected its share."
He added: "Waitrose and Aldi deliver all-time record shares this period of 4.8% and 3.3% respectively indicating that market polarisation and the 'two nations' consumer climate continues. Iceland records 10.1% growth confirming that the frozen food category as a whole remains robust."
The figures come as two polls suggest a significant number of UK consumers would be happy to eat safe and properly labelled horse meat.
A survey of almost 14,000 MoneySavingExpert.com users who are meat-eaters found 51% would buy horse meat as long as they knew it was bred for eating and was therefore safe. Of those who said they would eat horse meat, 29% said it would need to be cheaper than beef. However, 48% said they would refuse horse meat outright, even it if was free.
A separate survey by Ipsos Mori found consumers aged 45 to 54 are the most likely to be willing horse meat consumers (38%), while those aged 16 to 24 are the least likely (21%). It revealed 33% of Britons expect to buy fewer ready meals in future and 18% will choose fewer Findus products in particular, with 43% saying they considered the company's response to the crisis to be "poor".
However they are slightly less critical of other food brands affected by the scandal, with 35% rating Tesco's response as poor and 34% disapproving of Aldi's reaction, while 12% said they planned to reduce their spending at Tesco. The majority (59%) said the Government should do more to regulate food safety.