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Chicken sales have gone down "much less than expected," while sales of red meat and vegetarian chicken substitutes have failed to rise significantly, food industry leaders told The Jerusalem Post Monday, as avian flu continued to spread across the country.
"The market is responding maturely and moderately," said David Kliot, CEO of Hadera-based IT Group, which supplies the food industry, supermarkets, stores and army with chicken meat.
"We are a very large organization, and sell to everybody," he said.
Tnuva processes and markets chicken bought from the group as "Mama Of" shnitzel.
"Friday's sales were completely normal, as they were Sunday and Monday. We've seen much less of a drop than we thought there would be," he said, but added that precise numbers were not yet available. Kliot also could not yet say whether consumers and other buyers were switching from fresh to frozen chicken that may predate the flu's arrival, but would continue monitoring trends as they develop.
Tivall, meanwhile, said that although it was too early to see any rise in the sales or orders of its vegetarian schnitzel and other products, "from our experience during the Mad Cow crisis in Europe in 2001, there is a fair chance that sales will rise, and therefore we are preparing for increased demand for Tivall's nutritious and healthy products."
Other industry sources confirmed that sales of chicken substitutes had remained stable.
The Association of Meat Cattle Farmers (AMBAL) said there was "no particular rise" in sales of meat, despite expectations that consumers seeking alternatives to chicken would boost red meat sales.
"The consumers are rational. At the moment the public is continuing to buy chicken, and that's the way it should be," said the association's spokeswoman. She conceded, however, that a prolonged crisis could result in added beef sales.
Cattle farmers were not planning to take advantage of the crisis to boost sales, she said, adding that the industry hoped for continued calm and stable prices for the good of both producers and consumers.
Beef prices in Israel were still high due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Argentina, which froze imports from that country, alongside other developments in the international market, the AMBAL spokeswoman noted.
If the progression of the avian flu in Israel is halted at its current stage, poultry sales will stabilize in time for increased demand ahead of the Pessah holiday, "but if the situation worsens, that will clearly have an effect," IT's Kliot noted.
IT exports a limited amount of chicken products, together with turkey producers, but said a conflict between the Israeli and US veterinary services had already frozen exports to the US more than two months before the avian flu arrived in Israel, therefore, there was no immediate impact from the current situation.