Wednesday, 6 November 2013

EBLEX annual conference highlights key issues for beef and lamb farmers and meat processors

It’s difficult to know how to gauge the success of a conference these days. Numbers of bums on seats used to be a pretty good benchmark – the more people there, surely the better the event. A good number of questions from the audience was, and still is, another reasonable measure, but does it really give a true picture of success?

The drawback of just looking at numbers attending, of course, is determining how many people are really interested in what’s being said. Most of us have been there – the dry, set-in-their-ways events prompting the overwhelming urge to nod off for 10 minutes or so, before being jolted bolt upright when the applause kicks in at the end of a presentation.

Step forward social media! Love it or hate it, there’s no doubting its power to influence, or that it played a significant role at this year’s EBLEX annual conference at Stoneleigh Park, where more than 170 delegates gained an insight into the key opportunities, issues and challenges facing the beef and lamb sector. While we normally expect around 20 social media mentions a day, annual conference day saw more than 300 tweets using the hash tag #EBLEX2013 and 200 mentions of @EblexTweets. That’s pretty successful in anyone’s book, particularly when allied with a good, old-fashioned comment from the floor describing the conference as “the best ever”.

That said, social media is pretty redundant without a key element of any conference – content. With an impressive list of speakers, audience attention was grabbed from the outset with a series of insightful presentations, covering an array of subjects. They included Somerset farmer and Nuffield scholar Ed Green outlining what we can learn from beef production in the US and South America. Ed gave a fascinating insight into what he had learned on his travels and reiterated that the UK beef sector had a ready-made brand with fantastic opportunities ahead of it – 60 million affluent consumers in the UK, 300 million affluent consumers in the EU and growing export markets.

Somerset farmer and Nuffield scholar Ed Green
As EBLEX chairman John Cross pointed out, while not abandoning the domestic market, exports are essential for a sustainable industry. EBLEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier highlighted the global opportunities where EBLEX’s work has helped gain market access in 69 territories for lamb and 65 for beef. While there is still work to do, we are moving in the right direction exporting beef, lamb and fifth quarter products in a global market.

Morrisons’ agricultural manager Andrew Loftus provided a valuable insight, not only into how his business works, but also consumer trends, such as the increasing number of people who want to buy British – up from 55 per cent in 2007, to 78 per cent in 2013. Delegates also heard how EBLEX Steak Bars are now in 100 Morrisons stores, which has seen a seven per cent uplift in key beef lines. Importantly, he stressed that to keep British food on the shelves, it needs to be competitive and affordable, profitable and sustainable − all areas that EBLEX is actively involved in.

Morrisons' Agricultural Manager Andrew Loftus
A subject that is often misunderstood is the Halal market. Euro Quality Lambs senior director, Rizvan Khalid, not only gave clarity on perceptions of what is Halal, but focused  on the need for transparency and clarity to ensure all consumers get what they want. He also highlighted EBLEX's new consultation on proposed Halal marks for a market where there are growing opportunities.

Rizvan Khalid, Senior Director of Euro Quality Lambs
NFU vice president Adam Quinney outlined how we can be competitive in the world market, despite challenges to production including climate change, animal health and research and development.

EBLEX sector director Nick Allen went on to examine the threats to our sector, coining the T-shirt slogan of the day, ‘chicken is the enemy!’ Acknowledging the challenges of headline industry issues such as ‘horsegate’ and ongoing price volatility, he emphasised that it was encouraging consumers were saying they wanted to buy British. He also stressed the importance of a thriving export market and the need for farmers to control fixed costs to help enhance their bottom line, highlighted in EBLEX’s Stocktake Report.

EBLEX Sector Director Nick Allen

With delegates including farmers, processors and other industry stakeholders also taking the opportunity to visit stands with information on the Better Returns Programme, EBLEX Trade Marketing, EBLEX Consumer Marketing and exports there was no doubt that everyone left this year’s conference well informed and with plenty of food for thought on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. At the end of the day, it was perhaps this fact and the overall buzz of enthusiasm that will mark the conference out as “a good one”.


Speakers taking questions from the floor