Christmas period highlights challenges of carcase balance

Christmas period highlights challenges of carcase balance

The usual year round challenge that processors face in achieving carcase balance is brought to light in the run-up to the Christmas period says Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

According to Stuart Ashworth, head of economics services with QMS, evidence from retail sales analyses does not show a significant lift in the volume of beef – although it does reveal that the products bought alter.

Stuart Ashworth, head of economics services with QMS

Stuart Ashworth, head of economics services with QMS

Ashworth explained: “What we see over the Christmas period is that sales of beef mince and steak decline, while sales of roasting joints and stewing meat increase. Similarly, there is a growth in demand for leg roasts of lamb offset by a decline in sales of shoulders and lamb chops.”

According to Ashworth this is no different from the carcase balance at other times of the year, other than the particular cuts in surplus have changed.

“Meeting the demand for roasting cuts can often mean cold stores filling us with unsold mince and in the retail market there is little evidence of beef selling at premium prices over the Christmas and New Year period,” he said.

“Hence, provided there are enough cattle and sheep to meet the demand for roasting cuts, there is little incentive for processors to pay more.”

The current volume of cattle reaching the market is still slightly below last year’s levels but, because of increased carcase size and currency induced challenges in export markets, the home market remains well supplied with beef.

Lamb prices have risen in recent weeks because the supply of lambs has dipped below those of a year ago.

The period before Christmas regularly generates some high prices for show livestock involving a small number of animals in which considerable time and energy is devoted to turning them out for special sales, he said.

Analysis of the market over the festive period in recent years reveals there has not been any significant lift in prices however.

Ashworth observed: “The reality is that cattle prices currently trail around 10-12p/kg deadweight lower than last year and, while prime lamb sellers have seen prices rise in the past month, they still trail year earlier levels by around 20p/kg liveweight.

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