Thursday, 29 September 2011

The value of the French market

Opening up new and often far-flung markets for UK beef and lamb is a key element of the EBLEX strategy, but we should not underestimate the significance of more established export markets closer to home.

France represents the single most important export market for our lamb, with around one in every five lambs born in the UK ending up on a French plate. In 2010, France was the destination for 60% (57,400 tonnes) of all UK sheep meat exports.

In terms of beef exports, the quantities are far more modest, however significant inroads have been made since the 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak severely eroded French trust in our product. In 2010, beef exports increased by 26% to 10,000 tonnes, indicating a strong recovery in this trade. It is also important to note that in terms of quality beef, France is one of our main markets.

The success of farm assured beef and lamb on the French market is due in no small part to the work of the AHDB France office, based not far from Paris in Fontainebleau. Our colleagues in France have worked hard to create a positive image of the product and build fruitful relationships with the French supply chain.

Developing brands has been a key aspect of our strategy in France, with the establishment of the Agneau St George (St George lamb) brand, which has helped differentiate the product and communicate messages to consumers about the taste and tenderness of farm assured lamb. The brand has a growing presence in the major French multiples, supported by in-store promotional activity, and has proved so successful that is has now been extended to include beef (Boeuf St George).

Running in parallel to the development of Agneau St George, the Agneau Presto (quick lamb) campaign, which is a joint venture involving EBLEX and our UK, French and Irish counterparts, was launched in early 2008 in order to reverse a 10-year trend of falling lamb consumption in France. The campaign targets younger consumers by promoting quick, simple lamb recipes, with the aim of transforming lamb from an occasional treat into something which is consumed more regularly.

The specific trust issue around beef exports has required a very different approach, in the form of the establishment of the Rosbifs Club. This exclusive group of key opinion leaders from the French food industry, including butchers, chefs and food writers, come together every six months, on one side of the channel or the other, to see the supply chain in action, and, of course, to taste the product. The result is a group of very influential advocates of quality beef.

As we aim to meet our objective of maintaining lamb exports at a third of production and increasing beef exports to 20% of production by the end of 2012, it is impossible to overstate the importance of these activities in such a key export market.