Complexity of Scottish red meat industry a challenge and opportunity

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

“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 specialist Kantar [Worldpanel] reveals that only 20% of consumers buy meat and meat products from specialist butchers’ shops, highlighting the significance of multiple retailers to the sales of meat and meat products.”

He said the concentration of slaughtering capacity in Scotland was another issue. “During 2015, 24 Scottish abattoirs produced some 169,000 tonnes (t) of beef, 27,500t of sheepmeat and 23,500t of pigmeat,” he said. “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.”

Prime decline

Closer analysis, he added, revealed a decline in prime cattle numbers of 3.2%, but an increase of nearly 7% in mature cow and bull slaughtering. It was also noted that 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,” said Ashworth. “Reduced sheepmeat production was therefore entirely due to an almost halving in the number of ewes and rams killed in Scotland.”

Overly self-sufficient

Scotland’s population is, according to official sources, around 5.35 million and Ashworth estimated that if each of these people consumed 20kg of beef per person (around 10-15% more than the average UK consumer) Scotland would need around 100,000t of beef or about 60% of abattoir production.

According to Ashworth, Scotland is 170% self-sufficient in beef and 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.

He added that not all meat sold in Scotland was sourced from Scottish abattoirs, evidenced by the New Zealand lamb and Irish beef on retail shelves.

“Equally, it should be recognised that significant quantities of the meat consumed in Scotland are bought as processed product – for example cooked meat, sausages, pies and ready meals from retail shops, or as meals from restaurants, canteens, fast food outlets and sandwich bars,” said Ashworth.

“Indeed, it is estimated that less than one-third of meat is sold as prime cuts or mince (carcase meat) and the proportion will be less for pigmeat products where bacon, sausages and cured products dominate.”

Because of this, Scottish abattoirs have reported that some three-quarters of their sales are to customers outside Scotland.

While exports outside the UK take around 6-7% of beef and 25-30% of sheepmeat sales, the majority of customers are in England and Wales.

Some of this may return to Scotland’s supermarket shelves from specialised cutting and packing plants in England, but most of it will be sold to consumers in England and Wales.

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