Supermarkets stock same levels of British beef and lamb

Supermarkets are backing British beef and lamb as much as they were last year, according to figures from Eblex.

The proportion of fresh British beef visible on retailers’ shelves reached 85% in June – 3% higher than a year earlier.

The levy board’s quarterly survey also found that 71% of supermarket lamb facings were British, 5% more than in June 2013.

Farm leaders have accused retailers of selling more Irish beef at the expense of home-grown meat, after the all-steers deadweight price fell 75p/kg on the year to hit a bottom of 326.9p/kg a fortnight ago.

They have also called for supermarkets to promote British lamb when it was in peak season instead of New Zealand imports, after the annual farmgate price slide was sharper than usual.

NFU chief livestock adviser Pete Garbutt said the results were positive but there was plenty of room for improvement.

“The entire range of retailers, everyone from discounters to high-end, is managing to supply 100% British beef,” he said.

“It is quite clear that if supermarkets want to do that it is in their grasp.”

Mr Garbutt also said the main challenge was weak consumer demand for more expensive meats.

“The biggest competition for both beef and lamb is not the New Zealand and the Irish, it is the other proteins that are on the shelf and that is where the biggest price differential is,” he added.

Morrisons continued to be the only big-four retailer selling only fresh beef and lamb from the UK, sourced through its wholly owned subsidiary Woodheads.

The top three supermarkets – Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s – increased slightly or kept their commitments to British produce roughly the same.

At the higher end, Waitrose kept its 100% British beef promise and managed to switch on to all UK lamb as it entered its seasonal best.

Of the discounters, Aldi maintained entirely British sourcing and Lidl did so for beef.

The results for lamb are harder to compare as supermarkets balance southern hemisphere and domestic product at different times.

AHDB head of strategic insight David Swales said there had been a slight increase in British beef since the horsemeat scandal in January 2013 and there had been little change for lamb, but a level result could be seen as positive.

“A stand-on result is not necessarily a bad one because the market has changed quite a bit over the last couple of years,” he said.

“There is quite a lot of concern about imports and there is every incentive for the retailer to go and pick up those supplies, especially with consumers very price sensitive.”

Retail expert Steve Dresser from Grocery Insight said Aldi’s and Lidl’s commitments to British produce showed provenance was now a key customer concern.

“It is all consumer-driven whether we like it or not,” he said. “Budgets remain tight and there is a lot of talk about coming out of recession but it has been one of the longest downturns in history.

“I do not particularly see any massive step changes in terms of British sourcing. Everybody does it anyway. Customers demand it now.”

Eblex’s Beef and Lamb Watch survey takes place in one week every three months.

Researchers visit 150 stores across England and count the packs visible at the front of the shelves, noting whether they are British, carry the Quality Standard Mark and use the Red Tractor logo.