UK beef industry sees depressed market for high-value product
Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) warns about a possible shortage of low-value beef products on the British market due to lockdown measures and a change in consumer habits. A balance of trade data provides estimates that UK beef production only amounts to 80% of the total beef consumed in the UK every year, and that would require all the beef produced in the UK to stay in the UK. There is then a basic need for the UK to import beef to meet consumer demand, warns QMS.
A beef carcass comprises a lot of different cuts, for example, roasts, steaks, stewing meat and mince. Those cuts go into direct sales of chilled cuts but also into manufacturing businesses that make ready meals, burgers and sausages for example. Each cut has a different value to the processor so, for example, the more of a carcass that is turned into mince the lower the revenue that an abattoir will get for that carcass and therefore the farmer receives less for it. Consequently, an abattoir would only want to produce mince from its high-value cuts if there was no demand for those high-value cuts. If there is more demand for mince than there is for high-value cuts, then an abattoir would be more inclined to mince high-value cuts.
"The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way people shop and the disposable income consumers have in their pocket. In short, the closure of foodservice and self-isolation has driven in-home preparation, cooking and consumption. Supermarkets and other high street retailers are adjusting to rapidly changing consumer demand in order to maintain their market share.
There are two ways to do this; one is to convert slower selling higher value cuts into mince or the second is to find an alternative source. The first would require someone in the supply chain to carry the loss of turning high-value product into low-value product. However, with the UK at best 80% self-sufficient in beef, even if all the conversion of expensive cuts to mice could be done, there is still a need to import beef, but only the parts of a carcass that is needed to create that balance, for example manufacturing beef to be used in the making of burgers or mince," said the body in a press release.
Much of the beef imported in the UK market comes from Ireland (70%) and Poland (3%) and, until the COVID-19 crisis, have been used in manufacturing and the foodservice. With the closure of foodservice, that product will be redirected into high street retail outlets to meet increased demand that UK supplies alone cannot meet. However, it is too early to say whether the total volume of beef purchased has increased, or whether it has just relocated within the supply chain from eating out, to home eating. In essence, the same volume of beef may well be entering the country, but it is being distributed in a different way.
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