The beef trade has come through what is traditionally the quietest time of the year, as consumers post-Christmas tend to be in a frugal mood, planning to indulge and spend less and with few social occasions that involve spending on the more expensive proteins such as beef.
As we know, this has been further affected by Covid-19-related lockdowns across our markets, which have severely restricted the food service sector.
This has continued to affect our beef exports for the year to date, especially to mainland Europe where the food service sector makes up more than 40% of Irish trade.
This has been evidenced by estimates from market analyst GIRA, which projects European food service to have decreased by 41% in 2020 compared with 2019. While GIRA forecasts some recovery in 2021, this will still be 24% below 2019 levels.
On the retail side, demand for beef remains strong across most parts of the carcase and there is some sign that UK cattle supplies, which had been sufficient to meet much of the domestic demand so far in 2021, are now tightening.
This will coincide with increasing demand from retailers as we move towards Easter and then the barbecuing season.
On the other hand, the stock-building of Irish beef, which took place pre-Christmas within the food service and manufacturing channels and significantly affecting re-ordering levels in early 2021, is now giving way to more normal trade patterns.
There are signs of tightening cattle supplies in markets such as Germany and southern Europe, while demand at retail level has also improved there over the last two weeks in anticipation of Easter.
There is also evidence that the decrease of 10% in beef imports into Europe in 2020 will remain similar this year.
This means that there are currently fewer steaks being imported from South America and the retail and food service sectors are more reliant on domestic European product.
Globally, some of the major beef exporting nations are currently shipping less beef, which is resulting in finely balanced markets and good import demand from regions such as Asia and the Middle East.
In Australia, the rebuilding of the beef herd, as pasture conditions recover from the drought conditions of previous years, has resulted in lower export supplies.
Meanwhile, Brazilian beef exports are reported to have been lower over the past three consecutive months than for the same period last year.
In Europe, these combined demand and supply effects have affected beef producer prices, with female cattle prices increasing marginally, between 0.2% and 0.6%, while young bull prices averaged 0.4% lower on average in the week ending 27 February.
Similarly, in Britain, R4L steer prices increased by 2.6p to £3.85/kg, R4L heifers increased by 0.7p to £3.84 and cows increased by 4.3p to £2.57/kg.
Against a background of a projected 1.8% drop in European beef production in 2021 combined with the prospect that there will be a gradual reopening of the food service and tourism sectors over the coming months, there is a basis for some recovery in the overall beef market situation as we move through spring and early summer.
It is the job of Bord Bia to persuade consumers to make Irish beef their choice in the markets we export to around the world. St Patrick’s Day is an occasion when much of the world turns green and is therefore an opportunity for Bord Bia to get maximum impact with promotion campaigns.
In the UK and across our main European markets, Bord Bia will host more than 30 activities in 14 locations throughout March to leverage the focus on Irish beef in the lead up to St Patrick’s Day.
In Italy, Irish beef advertising will feature prominently in the 160 stores of Esselunga, a major Italian retailer. In Germany, in-store promotions for beef and lamb are taking place in over 1,000 German retailers, while in the Netherlands, Irish beef will be advertised in the Easter edition of Jumbo’s in-store magazine, reaching one million Dutch consumers.
In the UK, The Great St Patrick’s Day Feast aims to reach one million UK consumers through a collaboration with award-winning butcher Aubrey Allen and Michelin-starred UK chefs. A premium Irish steak and cheese box is available to purchase online from butcher Aubrey Allen (aubreyallen.co.uk) featuring Irish ribeye steak and farmhouse cheeses.
Seven high-profile UK chefs will each create a St Patrick’s Day recipe on social media using the Irish steak and cheese box to help inspire consumers at home.
In international markets, Bord Bia is exhibiting at the largest food and drink trade fair in Japan while in the Philippines, as part of Bord Bia’s EU co-funded pork and beef campaign, Irish pork and beef will feature in an online trade masterclass targeting food service buyers and chefs.
Virtual trade mission
The first virtual trade mission to China also takes place in March, led by Ministers McConalogue and Heydon with Bord Bia CEO Tara McCarthy. The trade mission will include client seminars, customer meetings and a series of high-level meetings between the Irish and Chinese governments.
Step-by-step guide on Quality Assurance audits
Under current restrictions, due to be in place until at least 5 April, Bord Bia farm audits will continue to be conducted remotely. On-farm audits can resume when the country moves to Levels 3, 2 or 1. However, farmers can still opt for a remote audit.
For any farmer who has difficulties with the remote audit, due to poor broadband or mobile signal, or lack of access to a smartphone, they can contact the Bord Bia Helpdesk for assistance (01-524 0410). Arrangements can also be made for copies of records and photos of the farm to be posted.
Where a farmer is undertaking an online audit, please note the following steps:
You will receive your renewal letter by post outlining when your audit is due. The letter will include a checklist of areas to be covered in the audit, ie photos you will need to take of your farm and farm records and areas for improvement on your previous audit (if applicable).
Your auditor will call you to arrange a time and date for your remote audit. Once a date has been agreed, your auditor will send you a unique link via text message that allows you to upload your records safely. Click the link and read the instructions on the top of the screen. If you need assistance, call the Bord Bia helpdesk (01-524 0410).
Next, you will need to take photos of your farm and farm records. The full list required will be outlined in the renewal letter. They include photos of cattle housing facilities, feed storage area, medicine storage, handling facilities and your stock. Dairy farmers must include the dairy and some milking equipment. Photos should be well lit, in focus and relevant. If photos of records are not legible you will be asked to re-submit.
Read and follow the instructions for each pre-audit information section. Upload the photos to each blue box. Select “not applicable” if a question does not apply to your enterprise. All photos must be uploaded at least 24 hours prior to your phone audit. You will receive text notifications reminding you to do so. Note: for a farmer who does not have access to a smartphone, photos can be posted.
After you have provided the necessary information, the auditor will call to conduct the phone audit. Have relevant records to hand. The audit will follow the normal process of a) opening the meeting, b) audit, and c) closing meeting. Reserve enough time – 45 minutes for beef and sheep (SBLAS) and up to 1.5 hours for dairy (SDAS). You should also complete the sustainability survey in advance of the audit at farm.bordbia.ie.
The audit process will follow the normal certification process including a 30-day close-out period for non-compliances. For non-compliances, you will receive a new link after your audit for uploading of close-out evidence. Do not use the upload link sent for pre-audit photos.
It is now a year since the global pandemic put a stop to the functioning of normal society and the arrival of Brexit at the start of the year brought its own uncertainty.
The switch of consumer beef purchases from food service and hospitality to retail is a mixed blessing for farmers.
The retail sector is the most demanding customer on specifications but it does pay the best price. That has benefited beef sold to the home market and in Britain where Irish beef is the top-up supplier to British red tractor beef in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda.
Retail demand in the UK has driven a large premium for British Red Tractor-approved beef and created a price differential of up to €250 per head with equivalent Irish beef.
Irish R3 steer price is broadly in line with the EU average R3 young bull price.
The restaurant trade in Britain and mainland Europe is a major market for Irish beef exports, though takeaway business including the burger chains has offset this to some extent.
Also, the restaurant sector in Britain and Europe is a major user of imported beef and the absence of this business is reflected in a major reduction in EU beef imports in 2020.
With Britain and the EU expected to begin reopening in the second and third quarter, we can expect a return to more normal trading patterns before the end of the year.
Ideally, strong retail demand for beef will continue, complemented by returned demand from the restaurant and hospitality sector.
However, just as it has been for the past year, it is impossible to predict how consumer behaviour will adapt to the new circumstances and that is without beginning to consider the impact of CAP reform and EU trade policy.