Thursday, 6 November 2014

EBLEX Annual Conference focuses on responding to volatility

Dealing with volatility and putting the customer first were two of the overriding themes of the EBLEX Annual Conference, which took place at Stoneleigh Park on Tuesday (4th November).

A full house at the EBLEX Annual Conference
The inspiring and thought-provoking event, which attracted around 200 producers and representatives of the beef and lamb supply chain from around the country, saw a range of speakers address the audience with some uncompromising messages around how to minimise the impact of volatility and make the most of current opportunities.

After an introduction from EBLEX chairman John Cross, Waitrose agriculture manager Duncan Sinclair took to the podium and spoke about the retailer perspective on current market conditions.

His messages around the value of integrated supply chains and his honest appraisal of what is (and isn’t) working for the retailer provided an interesting insight. Of note was the huge rise in internet sales experienced by Waitrose, up 40 per cent in 2013, a phenomenon which the red meat sector can’t afford to ignore (and the fact that they give away one million cups of coffee a week to loyalty card holders!).

Michael Sondergaard took examples from the pig industry
Duncan was followed by Michael Sondergaard, supply chain director for Tulip, who presented on the impact of China. While access to this market is not yet a reality for the UK beef and sheep industry, Michael’s presentation gave a practical overview of how to trade with China and took examples from the pig industry to illustrate the value of the potential prize. The audience were stunned by the figure that every hour, all year round, two container-loads of pork are being sent to China by Danish Crown alone.

The final speaker for the morning session was Allan Wilkinson, HSBC’s head of agriculture. Looking at the beef industry in the context of the wider global picture, Allan gave some very pertinent advice on how farm businesses can improve their performance and ensure they’re able to survive the rollercoaster of volatility.

The morning question and answer panel
The morning session was rounded off with a question and answer panel, after which delegates got to taste the beef and lamb mini roasts which are at the heart of EBLEX’s autumn marketing campaign.

The first presentation of the afternoon was from Dunbia’s head of agriculture, Jonathan Birnie, who looking at the importance of improving relationships in farming. Citing examples from his travels as a Nuffield scholar, Jonathan succinctly explained how to go about implementing change within a farm business.
The key take out from his presentation was that improving performance isn’t rocket science, it’s rather the aggregation of lots of small details.

Representing the final link of the supply chain, beef farmer and EBLEX board member James Evans then talked about how he’s made changes on his own farm to ensure they are better equipped to meet the demands of the market.

 EBLEX director Nick Allen then addressed delegates, giving an outlook for the sector and summarising what had been heard during the day. With similar themes resonating throughout many of the presentations, Nick summed up the key message by saying there’s no silver bullet to prevent volatility – we have to look at how we can make a difference within our individual businesses and work together as an industry.

EBLEX chairman John Cross addressing the audience
Following another question and answer session, John Cross gave his closing remarks for the final time as EBLEX chairman before he stands down next March. Giving his thoughts on the mix of volatility and global opportunity, he stated that knowledge is key and concluded that we're now working in a much wider world which offers great opportunities for those who seek them.

Those who attended the event certainly left with plenty of food for thought and practical ideas that can be implemented in their own businesses. Those who weren’t able to make it can get a flavour of the day by viewing the presentations and the videos that are now available online.