UK beef and sheep exports gain more ground

Beef and sheep meat exports rose considerably last year, buoyed by a favourable exchange rate and ongoing marketing campaigns, says EBLEX.

UK beef exports rose 36% on 2007 to 81,000t, while sheepmeat exports were up a quarter to 86,000t.

“If you look at 2008 as a rebuilding year after the problems with foot-and-mouth in 2007, business has built up very well,” EBLEX international manager Peter Hardwick said. Beef exports were still well below the pre-BSE level of 240,000t, but to double export volumes in the two years since the date-based export scheme was lifted was a “remarkable achievement”, he said.

Sheepmeat exports, by volume, were very similar to 2006 levels. But in value terms there was a 43% rise between 2007 and 2008, to about £260m. The increase was in part due to the exchange rate, but was also a consequence of an increase in UK prime lamb cuts to the French market, Mr Hardwick said.

“Lamb to France accounts for about 70% of our sheepmeat exports and we’re taking a larger market share as French sheepmeat production has fallen sharply. The French share of its own market has fallen from 48-50% to nearer 40%, while the UK supplies 30-35%.”

But French lamb consumption had declined 25% over the past decade and was falling 2% a year, he said. “So far the main hit has come out of French production – French lamb is about €2/kg more expensive than imported lamb – but it could be an issue for us if the trend continues.”

Mr Hardwick said many of the issues behind the falling lamb consumption in France were linked to its image as being an older person’s meat and one that was difficult to cook. “They’re very similar issues to those that we faced in the UK 10 years ago, which is why we’re involved with a number of initiatives, such as the Agneau Presto campaign. We have a vested interest in halting, or reversing, the decline in French lamb consumption.”