Scottish red meat industry challenged by wide range of customers

Scottish red meat industry challenged by wide range of customers

The complexity of the red meat production process presents both challenges and opportunities for the industry, says Stuart Ashworth, head of economics services with Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Stuart Ashworth

Stuart Ashworth

Scotland’s abattoirs have a wide range of customers, from retailers to secondary processors, and while the largest often have significant trade with multiple retail chains and manufacturers across the UK and Europe, the smaller plants serve the needs of high street butchers.

“Our red meat production process is underpinned by a diverse range of routes from farmgate to consumer plate,” said Ashworth.

“Specialist butchers shops have an important role to play, but market research specialists Kantar reveal that only 20% of consumers buy meat and meat products from specialist butcher shops, highlighting the significance of multiple retailers to the sales of meat and meat products.”

The concentration of slaughtering capacity in Scotland is another significant factor.

“During 2015, 24 Scottish abattoirs produced some 169,000 tonnes of beef, 27,500 tonnes of sheep meat and 23,500 tonnes of pig meat. Compared with 2014, this represented a small decline in beef and sheepmeat production and stability in pigmeat production.

“The five largest cattle abattoirs handle 70% of all the cattle, the five largest sheep abattoirs handle nearly 90% of the sheep and the five largest pig abattoirs kill over 90% of the pigs slaughtered in Scotland,” said Ashworth.

Ashworth revealed a closer analysis reveals a decline in prime cattle numbers of 3.2% but an increase of nearly 7% in mature cow and bull slaughtering. At the same time the carcase weight of prime cattle increased by around 7kg per carcase (2%), partly offsetting the decline in cattle numbers while mature stock carcase weights fell slightly.

“In the sheepmeat sector lamb meat production was virtually unchanged as a small increase in carcase weight offset the 1.25% decline in lamb and hogg slaughter numbers. Reduced sheepmeat production was therefore entirely due to an almost halving in the number of ewes and rams killed in Scotland,” stated Ashworth.

Scotland’s population is around 5.35 million and if each of these people consumed 20kg of beef per person (around 10-15% more than the average UK consumer) Scotland would need around 100,000 tonnes of beef or about 60% of abattoir production.

In other words, said Ashworth, Scotland is 170% self-sufficient in beef. A similar analysis shows Scotland to be about 175% self-sufficient in sheepmeat (excluding the sheepmeat produced from Scottish-born sheep killed outside Scotland) but only around 25% self-sufficient in pigmeat products.

It must be recognised, though, that not all meat sold in Scotland is sourced from Scottish abattoirs, evidenced by the New Zealand lamb and Irish beef on retail shelves.

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