Wednesday, 25 March 2015

How to keep the independent butcher buoyant

Succession planning plays a fundamental role in any business, ensuring enough youngsters filter through to enable it to continue to flourish.

Last year an EU-wide report highlighted the dangers of skills shortages potentially contributing to a lost generation of young people, with a third of employers surveyed citing a lack of skills as a cause of business problems.
Fast-forward to March 2015 and National Butchers Week – this week to be precise – and these thoughts have been echoed again in a report commissioned by EBLEX examining the role and future of the independent butchers’ sector.
It revealed that, while the industry is in a prime position to capitalise on the nation’s new-found love of all things culinary and value in what we eat, clear concerns remain over the lack of young people becoming butchers to sustain the industry’s growth. One respondent even suggested that the due to the lack of an attractive training programme the industry ‘has lost a generation’.
Figures in the report – compiled from around 300 surveys of independent butchers and several in-depth interviews – are clear. There were 15,000 butchers in the UK in 1990 and there are around 6,000 now – a fall of 60 per cent in 25 years. 90 per cent of respondents said they found it difficult to recruit trained butchers, a clear indication of an issue that needs to be addressed.
Why is the role of the independent butcher so important? An expert knowledge of different cuts of meat and how best to cook them is a key part of the repertoire of a successful butcher. Not only does it add value by promoting fuller use of the carcase, but it gives the consumer greater confidence to cook dishes that have perhaps become less fashionable. In essence, a win, win for all parties concerned.
EBLEX plays a pivotal role in this, with cuts development work to help maximise full carcase utilisation to the benefit of, not only the butcher, but the entire supply chain. The independent sector can continue to flourish, supported by programmes like EBLEX’s Quality Standard Mark (QSM) for beef and lamb. This continues to highlight the importance of traceability and provenance, which independent butchers are ideally placed to maximise the current market potential. We are also currently developing a meat education programme to tackle declines in meat education across the whole supply chain. It will equip anyone who works with meat with the right tools to do their job with a comprehensive understanding of the product.
There is plenty to be positive about, with consumers becoming more attuned to provenance and traceability. EBLEX will continue to work with the industry to help ensure independent butchers and farm shops maximise these current opportunities. What is clear, though, is that, more youngsters need to be attracted to what is a highly rewarding career. Only by addressing this will the industry be put in the strongest possible position to build on the current platform and thrive longer term.
The report is available in the Corporate Publications section of the website.
Further information about the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) for beef and lamb and other resources for butchers can be found on the EBLEX trade website.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Halal Seminar aims to keep debate well informed

Ensuring all parties are properly informed is central to maintaining a balanced debate on any specific subject.

And it can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that issues relating to the religious slaughter of livestock have been making many headlines of late, as well as prompting parliamentary discussion.

While the subject remains highly emotive, it is imperative that, irrespective of the stance taken on the issues, the debate is based on sound knowledge to maintain a productive dialogue.

This week EBLEX staged a Halal Seminar in Warwickshire to take a closer look at the opportunities and challenges facing the sector. More than 60 delegates heard from a raft of sector experts on a range of topics relating to the Halal sector.

Subjects covered included marketing activity for the sector and global opportunities for exports, as well as consumer perceptions of Halal products and dietary health. A lively question and answer session also provided the perfect platform for further discussion on specific areas of interest.

So, why should we organise a seminar on Halal? As a levy body, EBLEX collects a slaughter levy from all abattoirs and therefore has a duty of representation across the sector. The Halal sector is also a important and growing market, with opportunities both in the UK and overseas.

Delegates were told about marketing activity and the export opportunities open to Halal products, with Jean-Pierre Garnier suggesting the Halal lamb market in the EU could be growing at around five per cent a year. He outlined how the UK, producing 43 per cent of the EU’s commercialised production, was ideally placed to cater for the European Muslim population. Further afield he said opportunities in non-EU markets had huge potential, citing China’s appetite for Halal lamb as an example.

Delegates also heard about new EBLEX research into the welfare of animals in both stun and non-stun situations. Diets and consumer health came under the spotlight with AHDB nutrition manager Maureen Strong discussing the health challenges that appear to be of particular relevance to South East Asian communities.

There’s no doubt the subject of slaughter in accordance with religious rites will continue to prompt emotive debate. Ultimately slaughtering is about animal welfare and EBLEX will continue to work with the industry to ensure the debate remains properly informed – a point perfectly illustrated by this week’s seminar.

EBLEX’s research into the Halal meat market can be found here.
Consumer research, a lamb cutting guide for the Halal market and other resources can be found on the EBLEX trade marketing website

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Setting the standard for beef and lamb

Consumer preferences and spending habits are constantly evolving. At the recent AHDB Outlook Conference attendees heard from Richard Nicholls from the Future Foundation, who discussed consumer desires for transparency in the supply chain and growing demands for clear labelling. These changes have led to greater interests around the origin of food and having that added level of assurance.  However EBLEX has been satisfying these changing consumer demands through the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) scheme since 2004.

Over the last 11 years the QSM has developed into a identifiable label that assures consumers about the eating quality and provenance of their beef or lamb product.
Retailers and suppliers alike are readily utilising the reputation of the QSM logo to communicate significant messages about their products to shoppers. The scheme’s popularity has meant that, to date, most of the country's leading supermarkets have voluntarily signed up to join. Additionally there are over 2,100 independent retailer members, major processors, manufacturers and many foodservice groups spanning from the public sector to the local pub.

The appeal of the scheme continues to grow as demand for quality assured product becomes more and more influential in consumer purchasing decisions. A meat and poultry survey, carried out last year by YouGov, found that over a third of respondents said they would be more likely to purchase meat which carries the QSM logo on pack. The survey also found that 50 per cent of consumers know about the scheme and understand what it represents.

Whether it is the shopping aisles or bistro menus, it’s clear that consumers want information on the safety and traceability of their food and look for assurance and origin indicators. EBLEX continues to help inform consumers with their choices through the QSM.

As with all good assurance schemes, it never stands still. EBLEX continually works with stakeholders in enhancing the reach of the scheme, monitoring market developments and undertaking promotional activity – the most recent of which saw Michelin-starred chef Nigel Haworth highlight the advantages the scheme delivers to his business and the wider supply chain.

The scheme also seeks to celebrate those in industry, whose commitment to high quality beef and lamb has led to a stand out product. That is why EBLEX has this year launched the Quality Standard Mark Excellence Awards to recognise and reward quality and innovation in beef and lamb production.

QSM is committed to maintaining rigorous quality standards, including areas such as food safety, animal welfare and care for the environment. This is all achieved through an independently audited, monitored and certified scheme which stretches across the supply chain.

What sets QSM apart from some other assurance schemes is that it addresses the key issue of eating quality - tackling consumer concerns about the succulence, tenderness and consistency of beef and lamb.  Measures put in place to ensure these eating standards are met include, restricting older animals from the scheme, restricting animals from the supply chain that have previously been used for breeding purposes and set requirements for maturation.

These standards and measures not only ensure that EBLEX continues to put high quality assured meat on our tables, but also reflects its commitment to the red meat industry’s success and sustainability.

To join the scheme or for further information about the Quality Standard Mark and the many benefits available to members, visit or call the Hotline on 0845 491 8787.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Efficient and sustainable beef and lamb production in the UK

Sustainable and environmentally friendly beef and lamb production. A topic we are all too familiar with for attracting often unfair criticism in an unbalanced debate.

Sheep and cattle expel gases as a by-product of rumination. These contribute significantly to GHGs. That is a fact but that’s only part of the picture.

A focus on land and water requirements in livestock production are also mainstays of the critics that come around on a regular basis, often serving up sweeping one size fits all statistics that don’t necessarily paint a true or clear picture.

While no-one would question that some of these generate headlines, the important point often missed is their accuracy and context, particularly when applied to the UK. A case in point was a US study last year finding that beef production requires 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than other types of livestock production, for example. More recently, claims have also been made that it takes 16,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. This is not reflective of beef production in England.

New recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, America’s national dietary advisory panel, that makes recommendations to the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, has suggested eating less red and processed meats, citing global food production as the leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss and fresh water consumption.

It all makes for frustrating reading that paints a skewed picture of a resource-hungry industry that pays little regard to its environmental impact. This is simply not the case, certainly not in the UK.

In the UK we primarily graze ruminants to convert grass, which cannot be used to feed people, into nutritious food for our growing population. More often than not these animals occupy areas of farmland which couldn’t be used to grow other crops, meaning that livestock rearing is the only way this land can be productive. Our rain-fed pasture system means the UK has one of the world’s most efficient production systems, among the most sustainable in the world. As such, it takes just 67 litres of water from the piped supply to produce 1kg of beef. Similarly, it takes 49 litres of water to produce 1kg of sheep meat – not enough to half fill a standard bath tub.

And that’s without mentioning the wider environmental benefits of the industry. Grazing cattle and sheep play a crucial role in landscape management and maintaining biodiversity. Permanent pasture’s ability to capture and store carbon, which would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, should also not be ignored.

There’s no doubt the industry is more than aware of its environmental impact and responsibility to reduce it. EBLEX’s three-part environmental roadmap, for example, looks at practical ways of reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. EBLEX also funds numerous research and development projects in the area of climate change. We're also involved in the industry-led Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP), together with the other AHDB sectors. Performance improvements in the beef and sheep production sector in England have resulted in lower GHG emissions in almost every decade for the past 40 years, according to work commissioned by EBLEX. We are trying to reduce this further.

What is a certainty is that, for some, beef and lamb production will remain in the crosshairs as an easy target, where generalised criticism is par for the course. If they took time to look at UK systems, they would see it is actually a very sustainable place to raise beef animals and sheep. However, our industry’s commitment remains to take a responsible and proactive approach to further reducing its environmental impact.

Facts about livestock and climate change can be found in the news section of the on the EBLEX website