Climb out of commodities

Life after CAP reform, as we can see in stark relief, will depend on just one thing for beef and sheep farmers – having a profitable business.

This is why everything we do, whether it is working with beef or sheep producers to generate better returns, or developing domestic and export markets for the return of cow beef, revolves around this need.

We can expand our markets and increase our margins only by making sure shoppers know we are producing the quality products they want. If the consumer is fixated by price, the commodity market will rule. I do not believe most of our customers have such limited horizons.

And that is the value of quality assurance schemes – linking shoppers’ aspirations for consistent quality with an easily recognisable mark that highlights assurance and provenance.

Schemes also allow us to hold on to efficiency gains by providing the same protection that brands look for. In a world without offsetting payments, being dependant on a characterless commodity price that has no link to our quality-driven production systems is not the market for many of us.

But differentiating our product and giving shoppers guarantees puts us in a whole new category. Branding is about differentiation, and offering consumers a promise of consistent performance, whether it is lamb chops or mince beef.

A major task is to ensure quality beef and lamb products are easily identifiable on shop shelves and meet shoppers’ expectations. Only then can extra margin be generated.

That is precisely where the English and British Quality Standard Marks – appearing on packs in butchers’ shops and supermarkets – come in. Shoppers are starting to recognise the marks and all sectors of the industry – from abattoirs to retailers – are joining the scheme.

This is why we believe that differentiating our product from the general run-of-the-mill beef and lamb on shop shelves is so important, and it’s why we have invested heavily to make sure the quality marks are recognised by the industry and public alike.

Neither should the recognition of the work done by our livestock farmers and the quality of their produce stop at the retail shelf. Catering butchers, restaurant and pub chains and independent catering outlets are also joining the EBLEX Quality Standard Mark scheme, so those dining out will also be able to see whether their chosen restaurant uses beef and lamb backed by the mark.

Launching a brand on to the market doesn’t happen overnight. An immense amount of work has been done with abattoirs, retail buying teams and assurance schemes.

We also made sure real shoppers would react favourably to those English cricketing legends Ian “Beefy” Botham and Allan “Lamby” Lamb. Our 14.2m three-year marketing campaign, which kicked off in March is already seeing excellent levels of consumer awareness.

More than 70% of English consumers agree the QSM is a label they can trust and 62% believe QSM beef and lamb is worth paying a bit more for.

No-one should be in any doubt – and the trade is in no doubt – about the seriousness of our intentions. Brands need commitment and that is what we have – from businesses across the whole chain.

I do not claim that all businesses will support us. Some will claim to be supportive then use the vagaries of the commodity market as an excuse to exert downward pressure on our supply chain.

What is certain is that the most committed businesses are actively promoting QSM beef and lamb. Throughout EBLEX’s existence its aim has been to add value, not cost. By building on the existing foundation assurance standards we have avoided duplication and, by incorporating science-based standards for eating quality, we are meeting shoppers’ needs.

Our aim is to lift quality beef and lamb out of the commodity market. It is a first great step towards ensuring the future profitability of our industry.

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