Thursday, 30 April 2015

Celebrating the quality and excellence of homegrown steak

We all know this country is full of highly skilled butchers, chefs, processors and producers who offer consumers the very best quality steak available on the market. To celebrate that fact and highlight the different aspects of quality steak production, we launched three competitions open to multiple outlets from within the supply chain, to find the best in the business.
Overall winners

Applicants were encouraged to enter one of three competitions -‘England’s Best Sirloin Steak’, ‘England’s Best Innovative Steak’ and ‘England’s Best Steak Pie’. The three competitions recognised and rewarded quality, innovation and excellence in beef and lamb production.

Everyone from major retailers to farms shops put their products forward to be tested on eating and cooking qualities. The highly anticipated results were announced at the inaugural EBLEX Quality Standard Mark (QSM) Excellence Awards on 22 April. All finalists were invited a ceremony at the Underglobe in London.

Not only did the competitions provide an ideal platform for the trade to showcase the great beef and lamb products they have on offer, they also reflected the sector’s commitment to new product development (NPD) work.

The staggering amount of innovative NPD work that takes place in the industry ensures that our products maintain their tasty and traditional reputations as staple mealtime dishes, while offering consumers something new and exciting to tantalise their taste buds.

This message was underpinned earlier this year at the AHDB Outlook Conference, where the Future Foundation’s Richard Nicholls, illustrated that today’s consumers have an increased desire for new experiences to drive new food innovations and tastes. The vast amount of NPD work undertaken helps the industry to satisfy this growing consumer trend, whilst driving the continual improvement of standards and quality.

The QSM Excellence Awards further promote the essential NPD activity that makes red meat such a dynamic sector, recognising its scale and scope and rewarding the very best of that activity. EBLEX’s trade marketing team works in collaboration with processors, retailers, and caterers on a number of NPD programmes and initiatives throughout the year. This work is founded on some fundamental principles, including deriving maximum value from the carcase, while ensuring operational efficiency throughout the supply chain.

Adding value to the carcase and growing the overall value of the market is illustrated by a number of projects driven by the marketing team. The investment into thin-cuts seeks to develop lean, versatile and a quick-to- cook range of steaks for the retail and foodservice sectors. The ‘Slowly Does It’ initiative has also been set up to restore consumer confidence in the quality and consistency of casserole cuts and to return the category to growth. Valuable NPD work has run alongside extensive consumer research to deliver improved product consistency and better eating quality that consumers demand, and that will prompt them to come back for more.
We will continue to innovate with alternative cutting methods and introduce new cuts that will add value to the market. Furthermore, we’ll seek to provide additional opportunities for all of our supply chain partners and provide better returns for our levy payers.

If you want more information on the some of the new product development work being undertaken by EBLEX, please email

Head to the EBLEX Trade website to see who took home the top prizes on the night and pictures from the event. 

Friday, 24 April 2015

Quenching the global appetite for beef and lamb

In November 2013 then chief executive of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), Crispin Simon, said that “doing business overseas is vital to the growth of UK companies of all sectors and sizes.” His words illustrated just how the world is changing as life becomes ‘globalised’. As a result, more UK industries are going further to grow their exports and are embracing large and small high-growth markets.

Full year stats released by EBLEX show that small markets, in particular, have played a vital role in driving volume growth of beef exports.  In 2014 volumes of beef exported grew by six per cent, an increase of more than 6,000 tonnes.  Markets where homegrown beef performed particularly well included Denmark, which saw an increase of 23 per cent, and Greece, where exports were up fourfold. Shipments to Sweden also saw a 66 per cent increase on the year, while Portugal took 43 per cent more product in 2014 than 2013.

The demand for domestic product hasn't been limited to European countries. In recent years there has been a growing appetite for domestically produced beef and lamb within the West African market. As the people of this region experience greater income growth and the population rises, the market has become more significant. Following the success of a trade mission to a number of West African countries in 2013, EBLEX are investigating further export opportunities within the area.

Identifying and cultivating these overseas market opportunities helps to raise the profile of quality beef and lamb produced in this country. EBLEX continues to work on our international profile as a world leader in the export of red meat, through increasing dynamic partnerships with all stakeholders in the supply chain.

Trade shows are an ideal vehicle to support raising awareness of the industry abroad. They are a vital part of creating and maintaining working relationships that lead to greater global exports and are a cost effective way for exporters to boost international demand. 

Bringing exporter together with importer is a cornerstone of EBLEX’s export strategy, and is often facilitated on exhibition stands at trade shows across the globe, with the EBLEX stand often used as a as a meeting area to help strengthen existing relationships and form new ones.  

Having a wide ranging network of contacts is imperative for exporters. Each potential market has its own cultural and language barriers, often meaning that working internationally requires the need to think locally. EBLEX’s export team, work with teams of local experts, combining their local skills and knowledge with international experience. Local experts can offer insight into market development activity, which encompasses market research, PR and consumer education, which seeks to stimulate demand.

In addition to utilising the expertise of local experts, identifying and accessing high-growth markets is of paramount importance to EBLEX’s export strategy. A number of these markets can be found in Asia. To support developments in these markets, EBLEX will this year have a presence at number of shows in the region. One example is SIAL, in China, which next month, is expected see over 50,000 visitors and major Asian market players from retail, catering and food services attend. 

May will also see HOFEX in Hong Kong, with over 48 countries exhibiting products from across the food and beverage industry, including an EBLEX stand. The trade shows in the Far East create the ideal opportunity to bring together supply and demand to sharpen the profile of domestic beef and lamb, whilst also developing partnerships with stakeholders across the international supply chain.

Whilst EBLEX is committed to increasing the profile for beef and lamb overseas, maintaining and growing the appetite for product at home is always top of the agenda. Last month EBLEX was the International Food and Drink exhibition (IFE), showcasing the high quality product available to over 30,000 visitors in London. Whilst guests to the stand came from all corners of the globe, it was also an ideal opportunity to highlight the versatility of beef and lamb to a domestic audience.

If you wish to work with the EBLEX export team to increase profitability then please contact

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The most important place to start...the soil

Soil is one of the most important assets farmers have. It is dynamic and unique in each field. Ultimately the health of the soil underpins the health of the pasture and livestock.

Maintaining healthy grassland soils, by improving soil structure and conserving biological activity, will support better plant growth, forage quality and thus profits. It can also minimise the negative impact on the environment which can follow poor soil management.

In March the new Healthy Grassland Soils online resource was launched to promote the tools that are available to farmers with regard to soil. The resource highlights the importance of soil fertility, its structure and the life beneath the surface.

Farm management practices can both help and hinder the biological processes happening in the soil which is why it is so important for farmers to know what’s going on.

Soil fertility
The fertility of the soil can be tested really easily but farmers must make sure that soil samples are taken correctly in order for it to be a true reflection of the field. The results will determine the applications required and the RB209 manual can assist farmers in calculating this.

Soil structure
The pore space in soil controls the balance of oxygen and water available to plant roots and soil organisms. Clay soils usually have more small pores than sandy soils that and can hold on to more water for longer. Soil structure depends on how the mineral particles are aggregated together with soil organic matter.

Assessing the soil structure can be really quick and easy. The new Grassland Soils Guide details this in four steps and explains how to score the soil. A farmer just needs the guide (download it now), a spade and a plastic sheet or tray in order to analyse their soil.
Life beneath the surface
Soil organisms are hugely diverse and play a range of critical roles in most soil processes.  Soil biota is a collective term for all these living organisms, excluding plant roots, and is sometimes simply called soil life.

In grassland systems, soil life forms an intricate food web which gets energy from inputs of carbon to the soil in organic matter through plant roots, crop residues and livestock excreta. It also powers nitrogen fixation and drives nutrient cycling (phosphorus, nitrogen and sulphur) so that they’re available to the plant.

The soil life stabilises soil structure and allows the soil to absorb intense rainfall through an open pore network.

There are plenty of ways for farmers to optimise their soil from using organic matter, to aerating to preventative measures such as strip grazing, networks of farm tracks and stocking densities. And the advice on which is best is available in one place –

Resources you might find useful...

Healthy Grassland Soils Pocketbook – Email and the team will send one to you

Grassland Soils Guide Download here

Sward stick - Email and the team will send one to you

Improving soils for Better ReturnsDownload here

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The ever-changing consumer

People’s buying habits are often a reflection of their personality, income, age, lifestyle and aspirations. Much like these attributes, buying habits are constantly evolving. ‘New-fashioned’ consumers are both rediscovering and reinventing the shopping habits of previous generations.
The iconic small grocer's shop on the corner of the street that catered for all the needs of its loyal customers is largely an image of the past. Loyalty to one store has been waning over time as communities have become more mobile thanks to the digital revolution
The most recent EBLEX category report identified that shoppers, on average, now visit four different shops a month, as they act economically with their money and time. Making the household budget stretch further is important for most people, and they want to do this in a timely and convenient manner that fits around their lifestyles.

The rise of supermarkets has added a new dimension to consumer choice. Though the multiple retailers still account for a large part of the market, the change in shopping patterns has also allowed independent butchers to grow and develop. A recent report by EBLEX into the future of the independent butchery sector established that modern butchers are able to attract this new type of customer with different needs. Butchers now focus marketing and promotional activity around key points in the calendar linked with food, such as Christmas, Easter and Bank Holiday. They have also capitalised on the digital trend by engaging with customers via social media channels.

In order to compile the report, a survey of 300 independent butchers was conducted to see how the industry has changed over the past 10 years. Those that said the industry had changed for the better pointed to the drive of consumers towards higher quality meat, more willingness to support communities by sourcing local produce, a greater emphasis on provenance and traceability, a demand for more information and knowledge about meat, something that a specialist butcher is well-placed to provide.

The expanding number of grocery channels has also led to increasing numbers of people using online and convenience channels.  During the Christmas period both beef and lamb roasting joints performed well, increasing 2.9% and 7.9% respectively and online channels being the key growth driver. 

Specials and promotional activity have also motivated changes in buying behaviour. At the AHDB Outlook Conference, Richard Nicholls of the Future Foundation highlighted this consumer desire for new experiences which is driving new food innovations and tastes. Lamb sales especially continue to be driven by promotional activity. Non-British cuisine types such as Indian and Mexican are becoming increasingly popular meals for lamb and often encourage younger consumers to the category. 

The rise of cuisine-based dishes at dinner is a perfect example of how, despite the changes in how they are used, beef and lamb continue to be versatile, easy-to-use choices. And while the industry continues to provide consumers with new products that fit with their ever-changing shopping habits, beef and lamb will remain a popular choice.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

AHDB at work in Brussels for beef and lamb

Decisions taken in the corridors of power at the head of the European Union (EU) in Brussels have a direct impact on businesses in the UK, a fact that is as relevant to the beef and lamb industry as it is to any other.

To make sure producers here in the UK are well-informed about the latest developments in Brussels, the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) has a team based there. For this week’s blog, we spoke to them about the work they do, and the way it influences the industry at home.
The AHDB Brussels team - Kathy Roussel, Claudine Collin & Audrey Moulierac
“The role of the Brussels office is to act as an interface between the EU and the UK industry,” explained Kathy Roussel, head of the team in Belgium. “We liaise with EU organisations on one hand, and Defra and AHDB representatives on the other.”

EU policy advisor Audrey Moulierac outlined in more detail exactly how this is done: “We collect, analyse and disseminate information on EU issues to help businesses that will be affected to stay both competitive and compliant with legislation.”

So how and why are decisions made at the EU? The key to understanding the complex set-up in Europe is to understand the structure of the organisations involved. There are three main bodies,:
  • European Parliament (represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them)
  • Council of the EU (represents the governments of the individual member countries)
  • European Commission (drafts proposals and acts as a civil service)
In principle, the Commission proposes new laws, and the Parliament and Council adopt them. The Commission and the member countries then work together to implement them, while the Commission ensures that the laws are properly applied.

A good example of the Brussels team's work is the €7.7 million (£6.17m) European lamb promotion programme, which was announced last year.

Kathy explained: “It’s a co-funded programme which will see the EU provide 50% of the funding for a campaign that will target six different EU countries and highlight the high quality of lamb as a practical food choice for young consumers.

“Until 2013 it wasn’t possible to get access to EU funds to promote lamb. But through persistent dialogue between the AHDB Brussels team and the Commission, we highlighted the challenges faced by the lamb industry and changed that situation.

“As soon as the legislation was amended we put an application together with France and Ireland, which was accepted and will go live this year.” 

The project is a huge boost for the industry and aims to significantly increase demand for lamb.

Audrey summed up neatly the importance of the work done by AHDB in Brussels when she said in the interview with her for this blog: “We need to make sure that the industry stays well informed on developments that will impact on them”.

At the time of writing this blog, Audrey has demonstrated the way that she and her colleagues are hot on the tail of the latest developments, emailing teams across EBLEX with details of new legislation for implementing the rules for mandatory origin of labeling for fresh, chilled and frozen meat, which come into effect as of today (1st April 2015).