Producers involved in marketing branded beef should focus on meeting seasonal demand, rather than trying to supply the market all year round and putting quality at risk.
That was just one of the stark messages from meat wholesaler Dan Weston when he spoke to members of the environmentally-driven Limestone Beef project at Skipton, North Yorkshire.
“To establish a reputation and a market for branded beef it’s better to turn customers away rather than sell a product that you know doesn’t come up to the exacting specification you need to be working to,” said Mr Weston, a partner in the Cumbria-based, Lakes Speciality Foods.
The Limestone Beef project, based on native breeds grazing limestone pastures at low stocking rates, is working hard to find ways around some of the hurdles widely encountered by those moving into the specialist beef market.
Despite having the backing of celebrity chefs and development funding to back a high profile marketing campaign, farmers producing quality beef from native breeds with a clear “green” image are finding it difficult to secure volume sales to the catering sector.
“Farmers trying to establish a market and working closely within the supply chain must be prepared to go the extra mile and be aware of precisely what their customers want,” said Mr Weston.
“Consistency of quality is absolutely fundamental.
If your cattle are only seasonally available, but they are of the highest quality when they do come on to the market, so be it.
You will win more respect and win more customers.
“Saying no to a potential customer when you feel you can’t supply cattle of the right quality for his needs is one of the best ways of making him come back when you can,” he added.
He highlighted the success his own business is having with city-based chefs in Liverpool.
“These guys love being offered lamb, beef or pork that has a clear breed or farm identity.
We supply the address of the farm that produced it and identify the breed.
We find these chefs are clamouring for anything that has provenance – but it must also be consistently top quality.
“To get a firm foothold in the supply chain with a branded meat the quality has to underpin the image and the traceability.
So my advice is to clearly identify what your market wants and ensure your breed, your system and your marketing can always deliver to that standard.”