Farmers in the UK have a fantastic market opportunity if only they can connect with their consumers, according to Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of grocery sector body IGD.

Citing recent research from consultancy firm McKinsey, she told delegates at the Red Meat Industry Forum’s annual conference that the UK had more premium shoppers than other EU countries.

Over 40% of British shoppers were prepared to pay top prices for quality food and premium convenience food, compared with just 36% in France and only 23% in Germany.

“These are not just older people, but younger ones too.

The challenge is to engage with these younger people who are keen but not confident or aware.”

But most of them were not prepared to pay a premium just because food was locally produced, she said.

“Country of origin is not a key driver of purchase for food. But if you compete on freshness, taste, quality, appearance and health and develop marketing initiatives that promote seasonality, then the red meat industry won’t just survive but thrive.”

Richard Lowe of the Meat and Livestock Commission took issue with the comments, however, claiming that consumers do prefer to buy British meat.

He said MLC research in 2003 showed that 71% of shoppers preferred it.

But only two out of five people said they checked the label for provenance information when shopping, and he admitted that even fewer would actually do so.

Mr Lowe laid the blame at retailers’ doors, after research found that people were unable to identify country of origin information on almost half of a selection of meat packaging.

“In many respects, our food chain is letting down those that want to know where their meat comes from.”