One of the UK’s largest supermarket chains has dropped its commitment to source 100% British beef due to high beef prices and has reverted back to Irish beef imports to fulfil its market requirements.

Currently, British beef is running 60c/kg ahead of Irish prices and this has forced the retailer to reappraise its strategy of sourcing 100% British beef supplies.

It will instead go back to sourcing fresh beef from farms in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The company first indicated its intentions to source 100% British beef in October 2020, when the Issa brothers bought Asda. It was 12 months later in October 2021 when their plans came to fruition.

Asda did stock 100% British beef on its shelves for October, November and December, but has reverted to stocking British and Irish beef since 1 January 2022.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, a spokesperson for Asda said: “The decision to revert to Irish beef supplies was based on price. One of our core company values is to provide choice and value for our customer and we felt that this was the right decision to make for our customers.”

All fresh beef in our premium extra special tier is and will remain 100% British

"We know that it is important to our customers that the beef on our shelves has been produced to high welfare standards and is affordable.

"Unfortunately, the price of British beef has risen and while we continue to work hard to keep prices as low as possible for our customers, these increases are significant.

"All fresh beef in our premium extra special tier is and will remain 100% British and all of our fresh beef will be sourced from farms in the UK and Republic of Ireland. This allows us to provide quality products which caters to all customer budgets.”

Reliance on Irish beef

The Larry Goodman-owned company ABP has been one of the key Asda suppliers and industry sources suggested at the time that the move would come as a severe blow to the Irish beef industry, given the fact that, in the past, 40% of Irish beef exports to the UK ended up on supermarket shelves.

Asda had been one of three UK retailers, along with Sainsburys and Tesco, to stock Irish beef on its shelves.

According to an Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) survey in January 2021, 37% of Asda beef on retail shelves was Irish. This compared with Tesco, which has the largest share of the UK grocery market, stocking 28% Irish beef on its shelves and Sainsburys stocking 8% Irish beef.

75% self-sufficient

The UK is just 75% self-sufficient in beef supplies, with British farmers producing 900,000t of the 1.2m tonnes consumed there each year. Of the 300,000t of beef imported each year, Ireland has traditionally supplied about 250,000t of this, making up about 80% of imports.

It was thought that Asda’s decision could involve over 20,000t of Irish beef being re-diverted to other channels such as food service markets, which would mean a lower price for Irish beef.

The news will be welcomed by Irish winter finishers, who are currently paying record prices for inputs including meal, diesel and fertiliser.

The Irish beef trade has started off 2022 on a positive note, with prime beef prices up 5c to 10c/kg on pre-Christmas prices and cows also improving on foot of increased demand for manufacturing beef.