While price pressure from retailers has remained under the spotlight, some industry commentators warned it would be dangerous to see supermarkets as the answer to the industry ills when the ‘big four’ were continuing to lose market share.
Instead, an industry-wide approach, including better promotion and securing markets for higher value produce could do more to address the gloomy downward price trend.
Overall beef prices to April 2 were at 320p/kg for deadweight and 169.2p/kg for liveweight which the National Beef Association (NBA) suggested was the lowest for five years, although this was challenged by other sector members.
Norman Bagley, head of policy at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), said: “Let us look at alternatives rather than continually moaning about supermarkets which are mainly mince orientated now.
“We have to look for higher value markets, for example high end pubs and restaurants selling high quality cuts and gourmet burgers at up to £15 a kick.
“Serving this burgeoning market are independent catering butchers with top quality beef products and the new world of next day delivery which the largest institutional catering suppliers find difficult to compete with.
“These are expanding markets. The major retailers are probably a declining market and are more focused on survival than propping up the beef trade.”
Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA) executive secretary Chris Dodds agreed widening the client base would help drive the market forward.
Mr Dodds said the industry did not give ‘enough recognition’ to the small to medium sized abattoirs marketing a proportion of the high value carcases, which he said could be promoted better.
He added: “The beef trade is hard work and as a result let’s look to the future and try and help people that are trying to create new markets and develop new niches.”
Both agreed the industry must do more to ‘talk itself up’ and pointed to successful initiatives such as Great British Beef Week which takes place around St George’s Day (April 23).
However, they added supermarkets had a duty to provide clear labelling showing the provenance of UK beef.
NBA chief executive Chris Mallon said beef promotion in recent years had been ‘obvious by its absence’ and also called on AHDB to up its game.
“AHDB has a duty, as our levy body, to allocate a share of our levy to keeping beef in the minds of consumers, but what is the responsibility of the supermarkets? At the moment they seem to have no interest in UK beef.
“Their only interest is to return a profit and at the moment that is at the cost of the producer."