Over a number of years, Bord Bia has carried out extensive research with customers and consumers across Europe and key international markets, which highlighted a significant market demand for grass-fed products.
Some of the key findings coming from this research were as follows:More than half of consumers surveyed globally agreed that “grass-fed” would influence their choice of beef, as they believe that grass-fed cattle led more “natural” lives outdoors, and are more likely to be treated ethically. Some 64% claimed to be willing to pay more for grass-fed beef.In the minds of consumers, the majority believed that grass-fed means that animals are “grass-fed as much as possible, weather and animal welfare permitting”.Natural, healthy and premium are the terms most strongly associated with grass-fed beef.
This clearly identified market demand has been behind the process of developing officially-recognised grass-fed standards for both Irish beef and dairy.
A core element of Bord Bia’s marketing strategy focuses on how to differentiate Irish beef through robust and verifiable proof points. The strength of these results point to a real opportunity to use our grass-fed strengths to differentiate Irish beef. This is further boosted by the fact that almost half of the 13,000 consumers we spoke to globally already associated Ireland with grass-fed.
However, in order to be able to make a credible claim of “grass-fed” on-pack, this would first need to be transparently verified at farm and processing levels.
The current marketplace for Irish beef is impacted heavily by forces such as COVID-19, Brexit and pressure from non-EU imports. This has also led to a more nationalistic and protectionist environment in many markets, making it more important than ever that we can present Irish beef as a higher quality differentiated product.
Grass-fed standard for Irish beef
As with all of major initiatives undertaken by Bord Bia, the development of the grass-fed standard has involved ongoing consultation with key stakeholders over the past year through our board infrastructure, which includes members from the two main farm organisations, and individual meetings.
The existing auditing infrastructure of the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) provides the basis for verifying whether or not an individual carcase meets the requirements of the grass-fed standard.
The standard utilises data already collected at audit, which means that no additional data is required from farmers.
The principal requirements of the standard, which result in an estimated 80% of animals qualifying are as follows:At least 90% of the animal’s feed intake over its lifetime should consist of either grass or grass-based forage.The proportion of grass in the animal’s diet is calculated using a scientific grass-fed beef model, developed by Teagasc’s Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre.Cattle should graze outdoors for the national average of 220 days per year (although a tolerance of up to 40 days less is allowed where soil type or weather may be an impeding factor).Animals must have resided on farms which are members of SBLAS, so data is available in relation to feed consumption and grazing season length. The first nine months of an animal’s life may be spent on non-QA farms, in which case industry-average grazing practices are assumed for this period. This allows an additional 600,000 animals, mainly progeny of the suckler herd, qualify for the standard.Animals from feedlots are excluded from the standard.The scope of the standard currently covers steers, heifers and cows.Additional data is required from processors which requires a new standard and new accreditation.
The standard has been submitted to the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) for approval. It is hoped that the standard will be approved over the coming weeks.
Planning has commenced to incorporate the grass-fed standard into our beef promotional activities from the autumn onwards as we work to position verified grass-fed Irish beef as a premium product in a way that can deliver higher returns from the marketplace. Given the pressure on the beef sector as a result of COVID-19 and Brexit, swift implementation of the grass fed standard will be more important than ever.
PGI application for Irish grass-fed beef
Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture have applied for PGI status for Irish suckler beef.
Separately and alongside the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Bord Bia has been investigating the potential to secure PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status for Irish grass-fed beef from the European Commission.
Achieving PGI status would allow the premium credentials of Irish grass-fed beef to be further protected and promoted. PGI designation indicates products to customers that have specific characteristics that are linked to a certain region and have earned a reputation in the marketplace, which allows them to be identified and protected as quality products. As a result, PGI products typically secure a premium in the marketplace. PGI status requires products to be produced in accordance with a stated technical specification, which must be verifiable.
The well established reputation held by “Irish grass-fed beef” among European consumers, retailers, chefs and opinion-leaders is associated with the distinctive visual appearance and meat-eating quality
The draft application is based on the reputation and quality of Irish beef. The well established reputation held by “Irish grass-fed beef” among European consumers, retailers, chefs and opinion-leaders is associated with the distinctive visual appearance and meat-eating quality, which are a consequence of its predominantly outdoor pasture grazing production system.
Therefore, it is proposed that the grass fed standard will be used as one of a number of verifying measures in addition to the controls covered by Bord Bia’s SBLAS scheme.
As is generally the case with PGI specifications, certain grade ranges normally form the basic criteria and in the case of Irish grass-fed beef, these include the grades on prime cattle that qualify for bonus payments.
A further category also includes higher quality cows, in order to allow them to also benefit from PGI status.
Bord Bia applies for EU promotion campaign for suckler beef
Under the slogan “Enjoy, it’s from Europe”, the European Commission invites member states to apply for EU co-funding for programmes to promote European agricultural products throughout the world. Alongside Ireland’s environmental sustainability credentials and grass-based production systems, the national suckler herd of almost one million cows is also of significant importance in positioning Ireland as a producer of high-quality prime beef.
In the refurbished Delhaize stores in Belgium, Irish beef has been repositioned to a more premium position on the shelf alongside organic beef and other premium ranges.
Recognising this potential in the suckler herd and on the basis of strong consumer resonance with the eating quality and wholesome-natural production system, Bord Bia recently submitted an application for a three-year, €3.2m promotional campaign around suckler beef to be co-funded by the EU. This would involve building awareness and understanding of suckler beef across the key export markets of Germany and Italy. The campaign will target specific trade and consumer audiences in order to establish the market conditions where specific suckler beef products can be successfully established.