Consumers no longer have confidence. Since the Buitoni scandal, sales of frozen or fresh pizzas in supermarkets have collapsed.
The Buitoni affair has damaged consumer confidence. No other health scandal since the early 2000s had had such consequences. The batches of Buitoni pizzas that are contaminated with E.coli bacteria have been allowed to leave the supermarkets since March, the French avoid the shelf.
Sales generated by the sale of frozen pizza in supermarkets fell by 34.2% between March 14 and June 19 compared to the previous year, according to data provided by Nielsen to BFM Business. The sale of fresh pizzas, of which not a single batch was yet contaminated, also suffered a 9.4% decrease in the same period. They were on the rise at the beginning of the year.
Two deceased children
Since February, Public Health France has identified 56 cases of poisoning with E. coli bacteria linked to the consumption of frozen Buitoni pizzas. Among them 55 children, two of whom died. Others hold serious consequences.
The parents of a 12-year-old girl, victim of hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by a contaminated Buitoni pizza, testified on Monday at RMC. Lena has “mental disabilities, a lot of amnesia. She doesn’t recognize everyone. She has 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 at the Caudry factory (North), where the Buitoni pizzas were produced, revealed serious violations of hygiene rules. Presence of rodents, food on the ground, employees not washing their hands… On March 22, an inquest was opened for “involuntary killings”, “cheating” and “endangering others”.
The images broadcast in the media were shocking. But that’s not enough to explain the collapse of supermarket sales.
A “deep” and “lasting” crisis
“In my view, we are in a deep and prolonged crisis,” says Olivier Dauvers, specialist in mass distribution.
“It’s not a simple deception, there have been consequences for people. The nature of the product we’re talking about is another element, because some have a more problematic imagination than others. Pizza is an everyday and mostly family product. Here’s what eat children. The superimposition of these two levels makes this crisis serious,” he adds.
This also explains why, unlike Kinder, for example, the scandal affects the entire pizza department and not just the Buitoni brand.
Will consumers ever be able to forget this affair?
“In the short term, I’m very skeptical about the brand’s potential to return to the shelves. In the long term, I don’t know, we are doing wonders in marketing. But we have to say that distributors have also been victims “They had to throw everything away. If the Buitoni representatives come back tomorrow for the mass distribution players, they will not be greeted with flowers,” predicts Olivier Dauvers.
The only comparable example, he said, would be the scandal of the Tradilège rillettes sold by Leclerc in the 1990s. Contaminated by Listeria, they were responsible for the deaths of three people and led to four abortions. “Leclerc had let the brand disappear for 10 years, because the Tradilège rillettes had become the rillettes that were lethal,” says Olivier Dauvers.
Complaints from consumers and victims have been filed across France about Buitoni. The Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office Health Center is in charge of the investigation. 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 victim support fund.