Supply chain improvements needed for British beef and lamb, says Morrisons

British beef and lamb production chains need to become even more efficient if home-reared cuts are to remain appealing to cash-strapped shoppers.

Andrew Loftus, Morrisons agricultural manager, said that while consumers may say they prefer to buy British, rising food costs meant they would switch to cheaper, imported cuts if they believed these represented better value.

If British meat was to remain on supermarket shelves, the supply chain had to work together so that British beef and lamb was more competitive, he said.

“The number of people buying British has increased, with 78% of shoppers saying they want to buy home-produced food compared to 55% on 2007,” he told delegates at the Eblex annual conference in Stoneleigh in Warwickshire on Tuesday (5 November).

“But we have a conflict between value and values: what people can afford to buy when they go to the supermarket is often what they say they want to buy.”

Loftus said retailers could not make consumers feel guilty for not buying British, as shoppers would simply go elsewhere, so the supply chain had to work with retailers to ensure their produce was still an affordable option.

“To keep British food on the shelves it has to be competitive and affordable, but at the same time it has to be profitable so producers can invest and become more efficient,” he said.

“We think the key to this is thinking more as a complete supply chain. Retail in the UK is incredibly efficient and there is a great deal of efficiency being achieved on farms, but more can be done by working together.”

He said Morrisons had identified a hugely fragmented supply base in its own work with farmer suppliers, with cattle ranging from 260kg to 460kg at ages varying between 14 and 30 months – something which had to change if UK producers were to be competitive.

Work with suppliers on its own Yearling Beef Scheme had identified several areas to cut costs by reducing dry matter intake by 38% and by getting cattle to 365kg carcase weight by 13 months, he said.

“There is still plenty that can be done around efficiencies, and it’s not just at farm level,” Loftus added.

“We need more vertical alignment in the livestock sector, which includes working on genetics and getting better feedback on animal and carcase performance all the way up and down the supply chain.

“By developing new breeding programmes, working on feed conversion and producing consistent products we will ultimately reduce costs, improve profits and ensure shoppers can afford to buy British.”

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