Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Beef & lamb - ‘Meating’ the need for convenience

AHDB Beef & Lamb multiple retail trade sector manager, Matt Southam, highlights the growing importance of convenience as a key motivator of product choice for consumers.

There is no avoiding the fact that consumer eating habits have changed significantly in recent years, brought about by a number of factors, such as increased time pressures, less cooking education as well as an increase in the number of smaller households.

One of the most startling consequences, as far as the meat industry is concerned, is the reduction in the amount of time consumers spend preparing and cooking the evening meal – down from 60 minutes in 1980 to just 31 minutes in 2014.

We, as an industry, need to adapt and cater for these changes in consumer lifestyles and needs. And that means focusing on convenience – offering a range of easy-to-cook products and meal solutions that consumers don’t have to spend hours preparing.

At AHDB Beef & Lamb, we recognised these changing dynamics a few years ago and developed our Carvery range of mini roasts. The smaller roasting joints are easy to prepare, require a reduced cooking time – in comparison to traditional larger joints – and are versatile enough to be used as part of a variety of meal solutions any day of the week. And that’s exactly how we are marketing them. In fact, a few months ago we saw the return to television of our Midweek Mini Roast advertising campaign, aimed at repositioning roasting joints as a convenient and viable meal solution during the week.

One of our most recent product development initiatives – introduced with convenience firmly in mind – is our new range of Thin Cut Steaks. Not only are they quick to cook, but they are great value, lean and versatile. Thin Cut Steaks provide an ideal ingredient for a variety of meal solutions, including stir-fries, salads, stroganoff and sandwiches.

The ever-increasing demand for convenient meal solutions is backed by the long-term move away from home-cooked meals to manufactured options. However, this does not mean that consumers only want ready-meals as the desire to cook is still there.

The ready-to-cook market presents the beef and lamb industry with a significant opportunity to profit by providing pre-packed and pre-prepared meal solutions. Research shows that consumers are willing to spend significantly more on products that have been enhanced with a marinade, accompaniment or that have been packaged in an oven-ready format.

The popularity of sous vide pre-cooked products that simply need to be heated up is on the increase too. Where added value cuts such as the beef brisket and lamb shoulder may have once been overlooked because of the lengthy cooking time required, consumers can now get the fantastic tenderness and flavours in a matter of minutes by simply reheating pre-prepared products. Consumers’ desire to produce an appealing meal can be achieved in very little time.

Convenience is a significant growth driver in the US too, as we discovered at our World of Innovation conference last autumn. New packaging concepts, for products such as microwavable mince and all-in-one slow cooker bags, were showcased, highlighting that the desire to cook in a hassle-free way is on the increase across the world.

We expect this trend to continue and for consumers to demand more and more convenient products. To attract these consumers, we need to offer them more beef and lamb dishes that can be prepared in less than 30 minutes.

My colleagues and I in the AHDB Beef & Lamb trade marketing team would welcome the opportunity to discuss our latest product development initiatives or work with retailers to optimise their product ranges to cater for the needs of today’s consumers. Our contact details can be found here.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

How much meat should we eat?

Jo Biggs, AHDB Beef & Lamb Communications Manager

Jo Biggs
Last week I attended a debate, hosted by Riverford Organic, which addressed the contentious subject of how much meat we should include in our diets. The event was part of a wider campaign Riverford are running, looking at meat consumption from the standpoint that many of us are already eating more meat than is good for us and the planet.

The campaign was the brainchild of Riverford founder Guy Watson. As a producer of organic vegetables, he may appear far removed from the issues affecting the meat industry. However, as a meat eater himself and with relatives involved in livestock farming, he’s keen to explore the issues around meat production and discuss ways of finding the right balance in the diet.

Sitting on the panel alongside Guy was Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University, and Peter Melchett, Policy Director for the Soil Association, both of whom have strong views on commercial livestock farming and choose not to eat meat themselves. We were given the opportunity of having an AHDB Beef & Lamb representative on the panel, but unfortunately the invitation came at too short notice for the right person to attend.

It was evident from the outset that all three panellists and the vast majority of the audience were in favour of reducing meat in the diet. As a result, it was clear that the debate, which was ably chaired by the Daily Telegraph’s food columnist Xanthe Clay, was going to focus on how much we should reduce our meat consumption rather than whether such a move is necessary.

With a focus on sustainability and the environmental impact of meat consumption, the discussion was intelligent, lively and wide-ranging, however for me it failed to answer several big questions. While there was broad agreement from the panel that we should be eating less meat and replacing it in our diets with fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, there was little discussion about how the UK can produce enough of these foods to feed a growing population.

We know that a significant proportion of our agricultural land, particularly in upland areas, can only be productive if we use it for grazing livestock. There was much enthusiasm during the debate about the benefits of rewilding swathes of the countryside that are currently used to graze cattle and sheep, however taking this land out of food production will only lead to an increasing reliance on imported food, a consequence which would be counter-productive in terms of our environmental footprint.

The How Much Meat debate panel
With any debate about meat consumption, making the distinction between the situation in the UK and what’s happening globally is a major challenge. Meat production in many other parts of the world is resource intensive and we can certainly not shirk responsibility for the environmental impact of products we import. However, it’s important to distinguish this from meat produced using our own rain-fed pasture system. The UK climate makes it ideally suited to rearing grazing livestock in an efficient manner – surely it makes sense to continue using our land for this purpose?

Another point that is often overlooked and is little understood is the issue of carbon sequestration. While the potential of grassland to store carbon is acknowledged and was touched upon at the debate, quantifying this and other benefits, such as the contribution of the livestock sector to enhancing biodiversity, is very difficult.

With it often being quoted that the level of emissions generated by the global livestock sector is equal or higher than that generated by the transport industry (although this comparison, made in the FAO’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report, has since been discredited), having robust figures to defend the livestock sector is essential. This was touched upon by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Beef and Lamb in its 2013 report looking at the carbon footprint of the beef and sheep sector. The area of soil carbon storage is also being addressed by work being undertaken by AHDB Beef & Lamb as a supplement to the 2011 Landscapes without Livestock report.

When you scratch the surface, what becomes clear is that the “eat less meat to save the planet” message is too simplistic to be credible given that we are not yet fully able to quantify the carbon footprint of beef and lamb. Only with more research in this area leading to robust scientific evidence and data will we be in a position to provide a true account of the environmental impact of red meat. In the meantime, the industry will continue to work towards reducing its impact right along the supply chain.

Watch the How Much Meat debate online here.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Quality Standard Mark takes centre stage in France

At the beginning of March, AHDB invited some key influencers from the agriculture industry to attend the Salon International d’Agriculture (SIA) to demonstrate the work we are doing in France. The international show is held in the centre of Paris over nine days and is the biggest agricultural event in Europe.

SIA is an important event in the diary of our French office, headed by export manager Rémi Fourrier, due to the number of people the show attracts and its importance as a meeting place. AHDB was the only overseas exhibitor present in the main livestock hall and it was at the stand that the group heard about the work Rémi and his team are doing in the French market. The stand itself was designed to look like a country pub and featured examples of Hereford and Angus cattle from the UK, as well as a meat display with lamb and beef cuts, a double video screen stand broadcasting lamb recipes and two interactive touch screens.

                                   AHDB stand at SIA

 The AHDB France office is located in Fontainebleau, near Paris and the team there carry out a range of activities to promote Quality Standard beef and lamb to French consumers and the retail and foodservice sectors. This includes organising trade advertising, events and demonstrations, providing information in supermarkets, managing field marketing activities and communicating with consumers through the website and related Facebook page.

Securing access to new markets is a priority for AHDB Beef & Lamb, but defending markets that are already well-established is also crucial to maintain demand. France represents the single most important export market for UK lamb, taking over 50% of what we export. France is only 35% self-sufficient in lamb and UK imports represent 25% of the market. In 2015 the UK exported 42,700 tonnes of lamb to France, easily making us their largest supplier of sheep meat.

When it comes to beef exports, quantities are far more modest. In 2015, we exported 10,085 tonnes of beef to France. Confidence in the product declined after the 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak, however significant inroads have been made since then, thanks in no small part to Rémi’s team, to rebuild that trust and enable us to gradually increase our exports.

Within France, the brands ‘agneau St George’ (St George Lamb) and ‘boeuf St George’ (St George Beef) are used to market UK beef and lamb. It was first rolled out for lamb products and has been instrumental part to AHDB’s success in the French market, as it helps differentiate the product and communicate messages to consumers about the taste and tenderness of farm assured lamb. Due to its success the brand was extended to include beef. The brand’s presence in French retailers is growing, supported by promotional activity in-store and it can also now be found in a limited number of French butchers.

All St George branded lamb features the Quality Standard Mark (QSM) on pack. In a survey last summer, consumers stated that the QSM was the most important part of the on-pack sticker, reflecting the recognition the mark has gained in the French market.

For more information on our French office and the valuable work that they do, visit our

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

How beef and lamb exports add value to the sector

Last year was undoubtedly a challenging one for beef and lamb exports, but there were positives to illustrate their value. With newly-published export figures for 2015, this week’s guest blogger, AHDB Beef & Lamb export manager Jean-Pierre Garnier, takes a look back at last year and ahead to what the future holds.

Looking at the beef and lamb export statistics as a whole, 2015 will be remembered as a year of challenges, with beef and sheep meat exports down on 2014 levels.

There is no doubt that the strength of Sterling against the Euro had an impact on the beef trade, from both an import and export perspective. Beef shipments were back again in December, contributing to an 11 per cent fall in as a whole in 2015, compared to 2014.

While trade to Ireland and France held up well, a significant drop off in volumes of cow meat exports to the Netherlands fuelled the fall. The majority of the UK’s trade to the Netherlands is made of fresh/chilled shipments, with carcases accounting for more than half of these over the previous couple of years. Last year carcase shipments accounted for just over a quarter of the trade to the Netherlands.

However, the importance of exporting more cuts than carcases cannot be overstated in adding value and helping to maximise returns throughout the supply chain. It’s a strategy we have been pursuing for some time and is paying dividends in value terms. Beef cuts accounted for 86 per cent of exports last year, compared to 75 per cent in 2014. The average value per tonne of all exports last year was £3,400. For fresh/boneless cuts it was £4,200 per tonne, compared to just £1,800 for fresh/chilled carcases. The benefits are clear to see.

Another cornerstone of our exports work is to identify and develop markets for beef and lamb products for which there is little or no domestic demand – namely fifth quarter. The strategy identifies markets for fifth quarter, where it attracts greater value and maximises carcase utilisation. Last year, for example, volume exports of beef offal were up 8.1 per cent on 2014, with a 26 per cent increase to non-EU markets. Shipments of sheep offal rose 36 per cent with a near threefold increase to non-EU markets. Volumes to South Africa and the Ivory Coast, where we have conducted trade missions in 2012 and 2013, both showed significant increases for beef offal, again underlining the importance of our approach.

The strength of the Pound impacted on farmgate prices of lamb, with prices in Euros stable year on year. Our exports in Europe progressed satisfactorily whilst we had a torrid year in the Far East, with lower prices and access difficulties. Altogether, we estimate that the value of our sheep meat exports is down two per cent against 2014, with the fall of low value commodities to the Far East compensated by higher value exports to the EU.

Of course, another issue which affected sheep meat exports last year in relation to sheep meat were farmer protests in France, mainly in July.

Looking ahead, with an anticipated weakening of the Pound against the Euro, the outlook for exporters in 2016 is much more positive for high-value exports to the EU and Switzerland. We will continue to drive forwards with our strategic approach and fly the flag for our products via trade missions, overseas exhibitions, events and supermarket promotions. Our aim will be to build on the success of last year to continue to compete in what is a volatile global market, but one which also presents huge opportunities.
Further information on beef and lamb exports and imports can be found here.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

How to make the most of the your beef

Helping people really value the beef they buy is key to long-term healthy sales in the sector. If it is seen as something that is easy to pitch into the bin, it becomes simply another disposable commodity with huge wastage. At the other end of the scale, if it is seen as too expensive with little flexibility, it prompts consumers to turn to other proteins for meal solutions.

So, demonstrating the versatility of beef and cutting back on waste have a long-term role in the success of the beef sector. It is therefore fantastic to see the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign, from WRAP, shouting this message in the current Make The Most of Your Meat activity.

Using beef as a focus because of its versatility, but with the messaging being relevant for all meat, they have been working with TV’s favourite farmer, Adam Henson, to bang home the message about cutting waste and looking at what to do with leftovers.

Every year, households in the UK throw away 34,000 tonnes of beef – equivalent to 300 million burgers. Beef is not the meat most wasted as it remains relatively expensive. Mince and burgers account for a significant proportion of sales and they generally create less plate waste. However, there are still plenty of things we can all do to cut the amount we throw away and make the most of leftovers from the Sunday roast.

At a time when the population is growing and the demand for protein is following suit, we can make progress towards meeting any shortfall by simply being more careful with the meat produced – wasting less of it.

Love Food, Hate Waste is urging people to share hints and tips to highlight simple solutions to help them to make the most of their meat, enjoy it at its best, value it more and waste less. Our own consumer brand, Simply Beef & Lamb has been backing the cause, tweeting handy recipes that make the best of leftover beef.

Key drivers include:
  • encouraging people to value meat and in particular beef
  • getting people to value the time, care and energy used to provide the perfect cut of beef from farm to fork
  • reconnecting people with their food
  • giving people the knowledge, skills and confidence to change their behaviour so that they can reduce food waste and save money
  • increasing awareness of the amount of meat that goes to waste every single day from UK homes and the savings associated with this. 

We are in a position envied by other protein sectors. All the evidence shows people love the product we produce. Beef is consistently among the nation’s favourite meats and the roast dinner is a symbol of Britishness and still a staple on tables across the country – despite the best efforts of JD Weatherspoon!

Beef is sustainably produced in our country, making the best of our natural resources. Grazing cattle turn swathes of agricultural land useful for nothing more than growing grass into protein for a growing population. It is naturally rich in protein, low in sodium and provides essential vitamins and minerals, contributing towards good health and wellbeing.

Let’s do all we can to get behind the #meatyissues campaign and ensure that our beef is valued by consumers both at home and across the globe.