WHO Warning Takes Big Slice Off Salami Sales in Israel

Israeli shoppers are shunning processed meats after UN organization links them to cancer risk.

Ofer Vaknin

The warning issued by the World Health Organization last week about the dangers of eating processed meats is being taken to heart by Israeli consumers, who have been shunning salami and halting the hotdogs.

One of the big supermarket chains said that sales of hotdogs and processed meats have fallen 25% since the United Nations agency issued its report eight days ago. But Israelis aren’t going vegetarian: sales of fresh meat were up 10%.

Other retailers reported declines of 20% in sales of hotdogs and products like pastrami. For frozen meat – like kabobs and hamburgers used for grilling – sales are down as well, but not by quite as much, retailers reported.

“It’s an unusually big drop, nothing like we’ve seen after research has been published on other food products,” said one senior food retailing manager.

Eating processed meat can cause bowel cancer, while red meat is a likely cause of the disease, WHO experts said after reviewing earlier research on the subject. They put processed meats on their Group 1 list, which includes tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes.

Red meat, which includes beef, lamb and pork, was classified as a “probable” carcinogen.

In response, Israel’s Health Ministry urged people to limit their consumption of processed meats, especially children, to no more than once a month.

One medium-sized retailer said the drop-off had gained momentum in recent days, and sales were now down 50% from before the WHO report.

“It will be a real problem for suppliers if it continues,” said the manager, who asked not to be named. “When there is negative press on a product, there’s a lot of pressure on everyone and sales fall for the first few days. That’s what’s happened when there were studies about antibiotics and bacteria in poultry. But right now, we’re talking about a much bigger drop,” he added.

He still held out hope the decline was temporary and that fears would gradually dissipate.

In fact, though, sales of processed meats have been in decline in Israel for some time. According to market research firm Nielsen, sales of products like hotdogs, sausages, pastrami and hamburgers were down 5% over the past 12 months. And they were down 4.5% in the 12 months before that, it added.

Hotdogs have been the biggest loser, with unit sales down 16.4% over the last two years, to 152 million shekels ($39.3 million) in the 12 months ended September. Sausage sales have dropped more than 11% to 99.5 million shekels, while hamburger sales were down 10.2% to 189 million shekels.

Pastrami, however, isn’t suffering to the same degree. By far the biggest category of processed meat, with sales of 426 million shekels, its sales have edged up 0.1%, although with Israel’s population growing 1.7% annually, that still means Israelis are eating less of it than in the past.

Adi Dovrat-Meseritz contributed to this story.