This was discussed by Johnathan Birnie of Birnie and Associates Consulting at the National Beef Association Midlands committee conference in Daventry.
He said: “If we do not focus on the customer wants, we are not just in competition with other countries selling beef, we are in competition with other proteins, and even non-meat proteins.
Mr Birnie emphasised it is not so much the brand, but the attributes of beef which are important, including quality, welfare and provenance.
He said: “There will certainly be challenges, but the whole aspect of consumption against production suggests there are good times ahead. We are potentially entering another golden age of agriculture.
Poultry consumption continues to rise, it is consistent product, is relatively inexpensive, convenient and flexible to cook with.
Mr Birnie said that today’s consumer wants that in a product and farmers and processors must focus on ways to make beef a more accessible convenience food and learn about integration from the pig and poultry industries.
He said: “We are not in the position to produce things and just expect people to buy it, we have to actually look at what is ideal for the majority of the market, or target a viable niche market.
“Ultimately demand is guided by the consumer and if the price isn’t right, they won’t buy it. Quality is also very important.
Even if beef is expensive in the store if consumers have a good experience the first time they buy, they will buy again. However, if their experience is not so good they won’t.
“Research shows if someone buys a bad piece of beef, it takes an average of four months before they consider buying the same cut again. Evidence shows 40 per cent of topside and 50 per cent of silverside on the market is deemed to be unacceptable on taste tests.
There are huge variations in system and breed in the UK and this contributes towards this variation in quality.
“One of the main problems with eating quality and cost of production is the time it takes to finish cattle in the UK. The average age at slaughter is 27 to 28 months, but should be more like 19-20 months.
“The longer an animal takes to finish, the more environmental impact it causes, it costs more, takes up space and results in a poorer product. Farmers need to address this and work more like the pig and poultry sectors.”