Well before exports became a reality, some fundamental questions needed to be answered. Firstly, would UK supermarkets take cow beef? The answers at the time gave little confidence. So, who would take it? Having already surveyed the AIMS membership, I put up my hand and said there was a market. At the time this attitude was seen as somewhat over-confident in the face of what some said was going to be a consumer backlash against cow beef. We now know that science, plus the inspirational appointment of Professor Patrick Wall to oversee the re-introduction, was to prove the doubters wrong. Cow beef having been successfully relaunched onto the domestic market, the next big question was the response from Europe.
I was confident our sector could perform. Why? This was no accident. Although French supermarkets were going to be difficult because of the influence of French farmers, this was not the key to the market. A couple of years ago MLC France did a superb piece of work which identified a huge market for cow, clean and bull beef outside the supermarket loop. This required an abattoir and processing sector in the UK that was flexible and responsive to French demands Because many members had kept in touch with their customers in Europe all through the years of the export ban, they were convinced the demand was real, and so it has proved.
Exports are showing steady growth into the EU and are
certainly offering a marketing opportunity for those who can perform in that arena. We are also seeing significant interest in the long lamented "fifth quarter" which has potential to improve returns over time.
It is not all plain sailing and exports are not for
everyone but compared with those at the sharp end of supermarket "store wars" I think I know which looks a better bet.