Big Retailers Hold Down UK and Ireland Cattle Prices

UK - Sainsbury's and Asda show little support for UK beef, according to figures produced by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) meat services.
calendar icon 6 October 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

The country of origin survey shows exactly which supermarkets are most loyal to British beef, as well as confirming the grip that Anglo-Irish owned processing companies have on prime cattle prices within the both UK and the Republic of Ireland (ROI), says the National Beef Association (NBA).

The National Beef Association praised Budgens, the Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons and Waitrose who are 100 per cent dedicated to beef produced within the UK, and purchase from no other source, even though home produced beef is significantly more expensive than beef imported from the ROI.

However Asda and Sainsburys, which lie comfortably within the UK’s top four retailing companies, are less discriminating.

The most recent country of origin survey produced by AHDB MS shows that only 68 per cent of the fresh beef on Sainsburys shelves in August was British while Asda presented just 45 per cent.

"This means that less than half of the fresh beef on Asda’s shelves in August was produced within the UK and it is not a co-incidence that one of its major suppliers is Irish Food Processors which under the AIBP banner owns eight processing plants in the ROI, as well 15 processing and packing plants across the UK under ABP, "explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.

"Significantly Irish Food Processors is also Sainsbury’s exclusive supplier which means it can mix, within its routine deliveries, beef taken from British cattle with an overall R4L average price of around 285p a carcase kilo and beef from similar cattle processed in the ROI where the current R4L average is around 248p – which is a discount of about 13 per cent."

"It is also notable that 74 per cent of the fresh beef on Sainsburys shelves in August 2008 was home produced and Asda was offering 54 per cent. So each has bulked up its cheaper Irish delivery and in so doing has helped to hold back British prime cattle prices which are still well short of levels needed for efficient feeders and breeders to cover their costs of production."

But it is not only the NBA that is complaining that the biggest Anglo-Irish processors, including Dawn Meats which is Asda’s other supplier, are playing off the UK and ROI beef cattle markets and arranging the proportion of UK or ROI beef in their weekly deliveries so feeders in both countries are subjected to maximum price pressure.

"Last week beef finishers in the ROI were complaining bitterly that their slaughter cattle averages had fallen by £135 a head compared with this time last year and were accusing powerful processors of deliberately crashing the ROI price so the favourable discount on beef from the ROI into the UK can continue," said Ms Haywood.

"The NBA fears that domestic industry champions like Morrisons, Waitrose, M&S, the Co-op, Lidl and Budgens, wil not be able to raise their retail prices when such influential competitors are buying so much non-British beef that is been taken from cattle costing 13 per cent less."

"It is important for beef farmers both in the UK and the ROI that the sales position taken by powerful Anglo-Irish traders does not continue to undermine future prime cattle prices in both countries."

"If Asda and Sainsburys paid more for the beef they buy from the ROI, prime cattle prices in the UK would move up too. Similar observations apply to Somerfield and Netto, which in August were offering just 68 per cent and five per cent UK origin beef respectively."

"However the current position is that Anglo-Irish slaughterers, backed mainly by Sainsburys and Asda, are able to play two national markets so they benefit at the expense of beef farmers in both countries."

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