Consumers no longer have confidence. The sale of frozen or fresh pizzas in supermarkets has plummeted since the Buitoni scandal.
The Buitoni affair damaged consumer confidence. No other healthcare scandal since the early 2000s had had such an impact. Batches of Buitoni pizzas contaminated with E.coli bacteria may have been removed from supermarkets since March, but the French are avoiding the shelves.
Revenue from the sale of frozen pizzas in supermarkets plummeted 34.2% year-on-year between March 14 and June 19, according to data shared by Nielsen with BFM Business. Sales of fresh pizzas, with no batch yet contaminated, also suffered with a 9.4% drop over the same period. They were on the rise earlier this year.
Two deceased children
Since February, Public Health France has identified 56 cases of E. coli poisoning linked to the consumption of Buitoni frozen pizzas. Among them 55 children, two of whom died. Others have serious consequences.
The parents of a 12-year-old girl who was a victim of hemolytic-uremic syndrome caused by a contaminated Buitoni pizza testified to RMC on Monday. Lena has “mental disabilities, a lot of memory loss. She doesn’t recognize everyone. She lost the equivalent of four years of her life,” her father said.
At the end of March, an inspection by the Prefecture and the DGCCRF revealed serious violations of hygiene rules at the Caudry factory (North) where Buitoni pizzas were produced. Presence of rodents, food on the floor, employees not washing their hands… On March 22, a judicial investigation was opened for “negligent homicide”, “deception” and “endangering others”.
The images spread in the media shocked. But that’s not enough to explain the slump in supermarket sales.
A “deep” and “permanent” crisis
“In my eyes we are in a deep and prolonged crisis,” said Olivier Dauvers, specialist in mass distribution.
“It’s not a simple delusion, there have been consequences for people. The type of product we’re talking about is another element, because some have a more problematic imagination than others. Pizza is a daily and, above all, a family product. That is what children eat. The overlapping of these two levels makes this crisis serious,” he adds.
This also explains why the scandal, unlike Kinder, for example, affects the entire pizza department and not just the Buitoni brand.
Will consumers one day be able to forget this case?
“In the short term, I am very skeptical about the brand’s potential to return to the shelves. In the long run, I don’t know, we’re doing miracles in marketing. But we have to say that the traders have also fallen victim.” somewhere. They had to throw everything away. If Buitoni’s sales representatives come back before the mass distribution companies tomorrow, they won’t be greeted with flowers,” predicts Olivier Dauvers.
According to him, the only comparable example would be the scandal surrounding the Tradilège rillettes sold by Leclerc in the 1990s, which were contaminated with listeria, were responsible for the deaths of three people and led to four abortions. “Leclerc let the brand disappear for 10 years because the tradilège rillettes have become the rillettes that kill,” says Olivier Dauvers.
Consumer and victim complaints have been filed across France regarding Buitoni. The investigation is being conducted by the health center of the Paris public prosecutor’s office. Today more than 70 families are waiting to be heard by the courts. The CEO of Nestlé France, owner of the Buitoni brand, announced in mid-July the creation of a support fund for victims.