Hard work is needed to keep consumers buying beef and lamb. That is the message coming from EBLEX’s recent conference, and it is an important one. Farm gate prices are strong just now, helped by a reduction in supply from UK farms, a reduction in imports, and a solid export trade due to the weak pound.
UK consumption though is just about stable for beef and dropping like a stone for lamb. Kantar Worldpanel figures show that in the 52 weeks to October 2nd, people ate 21% less lamb than in the previous year.
So what are the problems? Price is the big one of course. When asked why they do not eat more beef 32% say it is too expensive, and 27% say they cannot afford to. The comparable figures for lamb are 45% and 33%.We know from other research that price in general has become more of an issue. %. In 2008 34% of consumers claimed to make a shopping list and stick to it. In 2010 this had risen to 44%. In 2008 28% said they worked to a strict budget when buying groceries. That figure now is 40%.
The other main problem on beef is that 17% of consumers think it is not very good for you.Lamb has its own issues. 57% of consumers agree that lamb can be fatty, and 14% say that too much fat is left on the plate after eating. 15% say there is not enough meat and too much bone to offer value for money.
What can be done to boost red meat consumption?
No one thinks that consumers will become any less price and value conscious in the foreseeable future.So as Richard Phelps, now of ABP, pointed out at the EBLEX conference, consumers must be given reasons to eat red meat. He believes that, despite continuing pressures on spend, consumers are becoming more adventurous with ingredients and recipes. They are staying in more rather than eating out, and are prepared to buy premium products, mixing these with value lines as budgets allow. So red meat marketers must respond with new cuts and new products.
Phelps says that quality has to improve. He specifically focussed on age of herds, but as anyone who has forked out for a joint of beef and found it tough and tasteless, or left most of their lamb because it was too fatty, much more attention has to be paid to the eating qualities and presentation of red meat. Nick Allen of EBLEX made the quality point also, particularly on lamb where he feels product must improve to combat consumer perceptions of fattiness and poor value.The final question therefore is who has to take the lead in this. I would suggest it is the processor, ideally with the backing of the supermarket they supply. It is the processor who has the opportunity to set production standards, to reject the over fatty animal, and to ensure that good butchering means consumers get a product they feel is good value for the money spent.