Beef remains the nation’s favourite red meat by a large margin, with retail sales showing solid growth.

Shoppers spent £1485m on fresh beef in the year to February, up from £1461m a year earlier.

And with exports now flooding back into Europe, the prospects for raising farm-gate values look reasonable.

But retailers’ efforts to move sales into higher-margin premium produce also offer farmers a promising market.

Sapna Sejpal of TNS Worldpanel said the meat category was showing encouraging growth for its size.

“Buyers are purchasing more per trip and more frequently.”

The premium market was just what North Highland Products hoped to exploit when it launched its Mey Selections beef and lamb brand in Sainsbury’s last year.

Chief executive, Danny Miller, said the main aim was to improve returns for its 150 members in the far north of Scotland and to help boost the region’s rural economy.

Sainsbury’s now sells Mey Selections cheese and he said Fortnum & Mason was interested in the meat – already served in its restaurant.

There are also plans to extend the range into new areas.

“The strength of a brand is obviously important when negotiating with a major retailer.

With Mey Selections, the first step was to gain a meeting with the buyer (no easy task!) by convincing him of the product’s worth.

“You are probably displacing some other supplier from the shelves, so you have to offer something special or unique.”

sam.fortescue@rbi.co.uk