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E. coli crisis hit discounters hardest

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Photo: DPA
12:24 CEST+02:00
Germany's deadly E. coli crisis in May and June hit sales at the country's big discount grocery chains the hardest, according to a new study. Organic food shops actually benefited from the outbreak at first.

Low-price supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl saw sales of fresh produce plummet by almost a third during the height of the E. coli scare in the first half of June, according to a study by the GfK marketing research firm and reported by Wirtschaftswoche magazine.

In the following weeks, discounters still felt the negative effects more than other sellers, as people steered clear of fresh vegetables.

In the early days of the crisis, organic stores saw an uptick in business as customers decided organic produce might be safer. But after media reports revealed the origin of the tainted products might be German farms, organic stores also began feeling the pinch.

All in all, sales of vegetables in Germany fell 16 percent. The worst hit were cucumbers, whose consumption Germany's Robert Koch Institute had warned against. Compared to the same time period in 2010, conventional cucumber sales fell more than 40 percent. Sales of lettuce and tomatoes fell by 30 percent. Organic produce fared somewhat better.

The emergency aid package passed by the European Commission in June for vegetable growers affected by the crisis is to be increased to €227 million. Retailers had also lobbying to get compensation but were not successful.

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According to the Koch Institute, 50 people in Germany died from the E. coli outbreak and hundreds were made ill. The bacteria was spread through infected sprouts.

DPA/kdj

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