Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Building on the foundations for future success

It’s been said that a goal without a plan is just a wish. At yesterday’s EBLEX annual conference, the sector’s goals and how to achieve them were clearly set out – maximise current market opportunities and attract more highly skilled youngsters into the industry to secure the future.

There’s no doubt the sector has been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance, fuelled increasingly by global demand outstripping supply.  Beef prices have been increasing and sheep meat demand is going to remain high and exceed production, so opportunities remain despite ongoing price volatility.

A number of positives could be taken from yesterday’s conference, from EBLEX’s ongoing success in developing export opportunities to meeting domestic demand and tackling environmental challenges faced by the industry. Engagement with the industry was good with many stakeholders in attendance, plus producers and processors, who were able to ask questions and air their views. During question and answer sessions, questions included, ‘should EBLEX have an elected board?’ (This requires a change in statute and something which is out of our hands), and ‘Is it time for a review of Red Tractor?’ (It is still very effective in acting as a differentiator for farm assured produce). There was also lively debate which continued long after chairman John Cross closed proceedings.

Work on exports again shone as a success story. Delegates heard how over the last two years EBLEX has helped secure access to more than 50 new non-EU markets, which is no small feat. The work, however, doesn’t stop and we continue our efforts to secure access to more markets, although this can be a complex and lengthy process.

On the domestic front, we heard how EBLEX has been campaigning to encourage people to cook more with beef and lamb, from those new to cooking through to those who cook regularly. National advertising and the ongoing promotion of new cuts of lamb, in particular, is starting to resonate with a range of audiences.  In terms of how the sector is tackling climate change issues, delegates heard how we’re on track to reach target emissions.

So, a lot of good work is already being done to consolidate the sector’s position in terms of helping producers and processors maximise potential and its increasingly crucial role in helping drive economic recovery. However, the future success of the industry lies in harnessing new talent, chairman John Cross spelled out. In his closing remarks, he left delegates with the message that while the industry has a sound future, we need to attract more highly-qualified young people to maintain the momentum.

  • Presentations from the conference can be viewed and downloaded by clicking here.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

SIAL showcase for beef and lamb exports

Today is the closing day of SIAL 2012, the world’s biggest food trade event, which takes place in Paris every two years.

Spanning eight huge halls and attracting almost 6,000 exhibitors this year, SIAL covers every sector of the food industry from fruit and vegetables to sweets and biscuits. With a hall focussed solely on meat, all the key players in the international meat market are represented and EBLEX has a well-attended stand where exporters can meet and do business.

The EBLEX stand at this year’s SIAL was themed as the St George pub. Featuring both EBLEX Quality Standard mark and Red Tractor branding, it offered a great place to meet, have a drink and enjoy a steak for lunch. As well as having a large central meeting area, the stand was designed to accommodate areas for five exporters, while other exporters attending the show were also able to make the most of the facilities available.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the show itself, EBLEX together with BPEX organised the St George dinner, which this year brought together over 300 exporters, traders, importers and wholesalers from France and most other European countries, as well as representatives from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The dinner took place in the superb Salon Opéra of the Grand Hôtel Intercontinental, in central Paris, and guests enjoyed a feast of British meat, with beef, lamb and pork all featuring on the menu.

The evening had an unmistakably upbeat feel, including a speech from the British ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, who praised the ‘made in Britain’ brand and reaffirmed the Government’s belief that food exports are crucial to growing the UK economy. Unfortunately Secretary of State Owen Paterson was forced to cancel his trip to the show due to extreme extenuating circumstances, namely having to make a last-minute announcement on the postponement of the badger cull, however his sincere and personal apologies to senior members of the EBLEX delegation have left no-one in any doubt of his commitment to the cause.

With UK sheep meat exports to France reaching £221 million in 2011, up from £61 million in 2001, and beef exports increasing to £59 million from a standing start in 2006, it’s clear that our efforts in this market are bearing fruit. There is no doubt that it is our presence at events such as SIAL, together with the continuing efforts of the team in the EBLEX France office on a day-to-day basis, which have helped achieve this.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Accessing the market in China - part 2

Back to normality this week after a whirlwind visit to China last week for the CIMIE exhibition and a series of meetings geared towards opening the China market to beef and sheep meat products exported from the UK.

As I mentioned last week, it was my first trip and really was an assault on the senses. A truly amazing country. More than anything though it has given me a greater understanding of the complexities involved in accessing this potentially huge market for our processors and producers.

One thing really driven home to me is that we will really have to have greater respect for the product to be part of the Chinese food scene. The biggest opportunities currently for beef and sheep meat products in the Chinese market lie in the fifth quarter. The potential for increased volumes of what we view as higher end cuts and steaks are there - and are growing - but will take a while before they catch up with things like demand for paddywhacks and tendons. But we have to stop looking down our nose (or turning our nose up?), however inadvertently, at what we call fifth quarter products – those bits of the animal loosely termed offal that we have little or no domestic market for. In China, those are the premium products and command higher prices than the steaks we more commonly buy here.

We must treat the product accordingly therefore if we want to sell it to the Chinese market. It should not be discarded in a bucket in a corner of the abattoir, or appear to be simply saved from disposal, but should have clear, quality processes for collecting, checking and packing. This is what we will need to demonstrate to the Chinese delegations when they come to visit our facilities before market access can take any great strides forwards.

The Chinese do take food safety really seriously. This is because they eat parts of the animal that, if you do not get it right and handle and cook it correctly, can go very wrong. Their commitment to high food standards is huge, even though at first sight this may not seem the case.

I should also say that in a very short space of time my respect for the Chinese integrity has grown very quickly. Their own awareness of the huge challenge they have with such a vast population to feed is acute and they are working hard to address the issue. We can help become part of that solution. This is risk management on a huge scale and that comes through all the time in negotiations and is something we need to understand and respect if we want to be part of this massive market.

So through the meetings and exposure at the CIMIE event, market access continues to move forward but no one should labour under the illusion that it is going to happen tomorrow. I am convinced it will happen but the industry here in England, and the wider UK, has a lot of work to do yet.

Nick Allen
EBLEX sector director

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Accessing the market in China - part 1

David Cameron said in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference this week that China is creating an economy the size of Greece every three months. The potential benefits to us as beef and sheep meat producers in England are huge so it is vital that we are at that particular table. And that is why this week I am over in Beijing for the China International Meat Industry Exhibition (CIMIE).

Securing market access to China is a long process and ensuring visibility at events like these, meeting potential importers, is essential. It also gives us the chance to have face-to-face meetings with officials in China who actively move the process forward with the ultimate goal of allowing us to sell beef and lamb produced in England to Chinese consumers.

It is my first visit here and the first thing that strikes you is the sheer scale of everything. Beijing is vibrant and, like New York, never sleeps. It is a city where the rules of both architecture and driving have been abandoned!

After a long journey here, we went straight into a series of meetings and a conference yesterday. One incredible statistic that I took away from the conference that demonstrates the sheer number of people in China – and the potential market for us – is that every year at the moment 32 million people give up farming and become consumers. Yes, 32 million! It’s mind blowing when you stop to think about it.

It is impossible to put a value on the potential market for us here but if you look at the English pig meat sector, which finally secured market access in May after several years of negotiation, it is estimated that it could very quickly reach £50 million a year. And the first shipment only went in August. For beef and lamb, who knows what that could translate to? Total meat consumption here is currently twice that of the United States and they do not produce enough domestically to meet demand

China has the added benefit of taking bits of the animals for which there is no market domestically and little elsewhere, things like tendons, membranes and pizzles. This is an area where domestic processors can really get more value out of the carcase, potentially up to £100 per head. One of my colleagues did some calculations recently and found that in The Netherlands, for instance, they make an extra £36.50 per head through maximising fifth quarter sales. This means a theoretical loss of value to the UK beef sector of £96.5 million per annum.

So our meetings continue and I will report back by way of this blog next week. This visit is already clearly illustrating to me the challenges we face before the trading doors with China are open. It is a long road, but one we are determined to successfully navigate.

Nick Allen
EBLEX sector director

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Don’t fear the cleaver!

Fear and embarrassment. Words you’d sometimes associate with a potentially awkward visit to the local surgery.

However, they’re apparently more likely to be associated with – or rather putting off – a visit to your traditional independent butcher.

A BBC Breakfast report this week referred to an industry survey that suggested a quarter of shoppers avoid buying meat from butchers, while one in 10 find a visit to the butcher a daunting prospect. The report posed the question, ‘could confusion over cuts be to blame for shoppers opting for supermarkets instead?’

Undoubtedly, the number of independent butchers has dropped drastically in the last 30 or so years – to the tune of around 75% from 25,300 in 1977 to 6,773 in 2009, but can it really all be down to shoppers feeling daunted at the prospect of having to ask about certain cuts? After all, if your car conks out, you wouldn’t think twice about calling a mechanic, irrespective of how simple the problem may be to fix. Buying meat from a butcher surely shouldn’t cause that level of anxiety.

Joking aside, helping to give consumers more confidence when choosing cuts to cook is an important job and one where EBLEX has been taking the lead.

We have recently launched a TV advertising campaign to remind consumers the Simple Pleasures of cooking with Quality Standard beef and lamb. Focusing on the satisfaction and accomplishment of cooking a great dish with Quality Standard Mark beef or lamb, the aim is to communicate to consumers that cooking with beef and lamb can be very simple and rewarding.

Different versions on the advert focus on different consumer life-stage groups are being supported by a video-on-demand campaign, press advertising and online activity, in the form of display advertising and social media content.

In addition, EBLEX has teamed up with Henry Herbert, one half of the Fabulous Baker Brothers, to launch a Master Butchery scheme in association with Quality Standard Mark beef and lamb. Developed to help educate keen cooks on how to get the best out of their butcher, it is also aimed at encouraging them to have a go at some easy home butchery themselves.

And if that wasn’t enough, EBLEX has also launched a free app to encourage young people to get cooking with beef and lamb and master five basic meals by the age of 25 as part of the 5by25 campaign. The app aims to give novices the skills and confidence to get in the kitchen. Users can choose the dish they want to learn by searching for a main ingredient or cooking time.

Plenty going on education-wise then, so the message is clear – if you’re unsure about what beef or lamb cuts to buy or how best to prepare them, don’t fear, help is here either via EBLEX or a visit to your local butcher.