Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Export conference highlights opportunities for beef and lamb

There were many take-out messages from yesterday’s eighth annual EBLEX Export Conference but the main one has to be the huge potential for beef and lamb in the global market.

Importantly, following some recent ill-informed comments in certain quarters of the media which have painted a jaded picture of the beef and lamb export market, it also underlined the work EBLEX has already been doing to open new markets to the 100-plus delegates at the event.

Adding Third Country markets to open up new trading routes and so spread the risk of any significant fall off in trading in the EU has been a focus of EBLEX for nearly two years now. It has led to the opening up more than 50 new non-EU markets by providing the support services, funding and drive to keep things moving.

Over this time, we have seen a 150% increase in beef exports and a 193% increase in sheep meat exports to non-EU markets.  Recent developments have included resuming bone-in beef to Hong Kong. Beef rib cuts and other specified bone-in products, except vertebral column cuts, from cattle less than 30 months old can now be exported to Hong Kong. Boneless beef from cattle of all ages is already exported there. It is part of a staged approach agreed with the Hong Kong authorities which will in time also see the market open to 5th quarter products, and is certainly encouraging news.

This week’s conference also showcased some of the other ongoing work on the export front, particularly focusing on Africa. EBLEX export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier outlined the clear opportunities there, citing the increasing gap between rising population and food demand. Adding that the UK is well placed to supply cheap proteins due to historical links and logistics, the opportunities for beef and lamb exports to Africa are clear for all to see. Delegates were also given a useful insight into specific details of trading with Ghana and Angola.

A similar picture was painted in the Far East market, with increasing per capita consumption in China, in particular, and the growing gap between consumption and domestic meat production. Increasing our in-market presence will potentially pay dividends in the long-term and, again, this is something we are working hard to achieve.

It was good to see so many representatives from across the industry attending the conference, all working towards a common goal. The bottom line is that we have a quality product to sell. The good work has begun.  Now is the time to build on this to ensure our continued export success.

  • Presentations from the conference can be downloaded from the EBLEX website by clicking here.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Harnessing the power of the internet

At the weekend 335 farms across the country opened to the public as part of Open Farm Sunday, welcoming around 150,000 visitors who were keen to find out more about how their food is produced.

Open Farm Sunday is a great initiative to help people reconnect with the countryside and the food that they are eating, and it’s something EBLEX has supported since it began in 2006.

This year, to coincide with the event, we launched a new Kids’ Zone section on our consumer website – The online resource includes games, challenges and quests for children, with illustrated characters to help them learn more about beef and lamb production.

The first quest involved children completing a set of on-farm challenges on the day, and receiving a virtual ‘badge’ and a bracelet with a link to exclusive content on the website. The Kids’ Zone got off to a flying start, receiving visits from more than 1,000 people in the first weekend it was live.

Explaining the benefits of beef and lamb to consumers, and encouraging them to choose farm assured (Red Tractor or Quality Standard Mark) product, is a key part of EBLEX’s role. With incomes squeezed and consumers looking to make economies, it’s important that we do what we can to stimulate demand on the home market.

The internet has become one of our key channels for communicating with those who buy beef and lamb, and is the hub for our online consumer activity. The website has information on our current marketing campaigns, and also is the home to a great selection of beef and lamb recipes.

These days we can’t ignore the power of social media, and we have both a simply beef and lamb Facebook page and Twitter feed, which provide other ways for us to talk to consumers. In addition, apps which can be downloaded to smartphones and other mobile devices have become increasingly popular, and the EBLEX iBBQ and iFillet apps have both been very well-received by consumers, with iBBQ becoming the second most popular recipe app of 2010.

So if you’re struggling for ideas on what to cook tonight, why not pay a visit? You’ll find a wealth of beef and lamb information at your fingertips.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

British beef – the toast of Paris!

It sounds about as likely as England returning victorious from Euro 2012, but British beef is apparently fast becoming the ‘roast’ of Paris.

A recent BBC report, Could France learn to love British beef?, revealed what many would have thought unthinkable in the not-so-distant days of France’s unilateral ban on British beef – our product is, in fact, rather good and earning plaudits across the Channel. Praise indeed!

Well, we would say that wouldn’t we? Not our words though, but those of top butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, who has set up a meat lab and hanging room beneath trendy 24-hour steakhouse, Le Beef Club, with all the beef coming from Britain. He’s also advocated that France copy the British approach, citing, among other things, breeding and selection techniques to produce meat that is more tender – topics covered extensively by our Better Returns Programme.

The esteemed Rosbifs Club, set up by EBLEX to help promote quality beef and lamb to influential food industry figures in France, has played a key role in showcasing beef produced under the Quality Standard Scheme. For a few years now our team has cultivated the special relationship with key players in the Rosbifs Club to promote British beef. Among other things, this work helped to secure the supply of British beef to Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec. Given the fact he is lauding British beef, this work is clearly paying dividends.

Looking at the bigger picture, UK exports of fresh and frozen beef to France have been in the ascendancy. And while the export volume to France has dipped slightly in the first quarter of 2012, largely due to lower production and the amount of beef available on the Continent, statistics for the same period each year since 2008 have shown a steady increase. Similarly, the value of fresh and frozen beef exports to France has also been on an upward curve – worth £12.5 million in the first quarter of 2012, compared to £11 million for the same period last year which is clearly encouraging.

Could France learn to love British beef? The signs are certainly pointing in the right direction.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Lamb prices – Keep calm and carry on

Dark clouds have been gathering amid concern over a recent fall in sheep prices.
As with any news suggesting impending doom, irrespective of the subject, it often prompts panic and the knee jerk reactions that go with it.
But let’s take a step back, draw breath and give the issue some perspective. A variety of factors have come together to influence the price over the last month and the reality is it is following an annual trend but simply running a few weeks earlier than normal.

Historically, we do see a dip in price in early to mid June. We are slightly ahead of ourselves this year with lambs finishing two to three weeks early, perhaps as a result of the favourable weather conditions. Also, prices this time last year were exceptionally high so may make the gap between then and now look artificially big. The price trend is actually in line with 2009 and 2010 early season, which in hindsight were seen by producers as good years.

Other factors have played a part a fall in lamb prices across the board, including in New Zealand, Australia, France and Ireland. Strengthening Sterling also impacts on the price, though this does not necessarily significantly affect volumes we export so there is no collapse in trade, just the money we get for the product sold is lower.

Significantly, there is also clear evidence of farmers holding on to their lambs too long waiting for the price to go up, which can create a sudden spike in supply which of course affects the prices. Recently, we have seen around 35 per cent and 20 per cent more lambs coming on to the market than their preceding weeks respectively. The problem is compounded when a lot of those animals are overweight so we have a glut of sub-prime quality lambs, which drives the price down further.

Sending lambs to market that are “fit not fat" is the best way for producers to maximise returns as sheep prices fall. Producers should really concentrate on selling stock as they reach the target specification for weight and fatness to maximise returns and benefit from the higher end prices hidden within the SQQ average.

You can check out latest prices in the market prices section at