RETAILERS are being urged to pass on the savings made by sourcing cheaper imported beef to encourage customers to buy British.
The NFU says the move is vital for the long-term health of the country’s beef industry, which supermarkets have said they want to increasingly rely on.
Farmgate prices for home-reared beef have plummeted to lows not seen since 2012 and the industry has been outspoken on how promises made by retailers to work more closely with British producers following the horsemeat scandal have been broken.
On the eve of the national Beef Expo held in Hexham, Tesco said it had adapted its offer to meet the demands of thriftier customers.
“The cost price of British beef has nearly doubled in the past four years, making it a much more expensive meat for our customers and leading some to switch to cheaper proteins,” a Tesco spokesman said.
“Clearly this is a challenge for ourselves and our suppliers, and we must work together to grow both production and demand, so that we can provide an affordable offer for customers while also ensuring a sustainable future for the industry. When we get it right, we see great results; for example our Finest range, which is 100 per cent British, has seen a significant growth in volume since this time last year.”
But some farmers feel let down by Tesco. Earlier this year the National Farmers’ Union highlighted how year-on-year data indicated a 7.9 per cent fall in sourcing fresh British beef. This is despite a pledge by Philip Clarke, Tesco’s group chief executive, at last year’s NFU conference post-horsegate, that the chain “should be the best supporter of British farmers”.
Rosey Dunn, the NFU’s regional board chairman, who runs 200 head of cattle at Stockton-on-the-Forest, near York, said: “Following horsegate we were led to believe that the retailers, and in particular Tesco, wanted to work with beef farmers better but it would seem that it’s not come to fruition.
“The cost price of British beef may have increased, but it has done so from a low point. We have suffered from particularly low prices for a number of years.
“We have not seen retailers pass on the savings they are making on cheaper products in the last few weeks and so it doesn’t encourage consumers to come back to British beef.”
The Yorkshire Post asked supermarkets whether they were actively seeking to increase the amount of fresh British beef that they stock. Sainsbury’s said: “Our fresh and frozen beef is British or Irish and the beef in our fresh ready meals, pies, sandwiches, quiches and soups is British.”
A spokesman said it had over 600 farmers supplying British beef, adding: “As we work towards our commitment to double sales of British food by 2020 we will increasingly work with British growers, farmers and suppliers to achieve this.”
Morrisons said all its own-brand fresh beef is British and processed through its own manufacturing sites, giving it a shorter, more transparent supply chain. The retailer added that it sources a higher proportion of meat direct from British farmers than any other major supermarket.
Asda said: “We source British first and we use Irish to support availability. These are procured to the same farming standard and stocked in all stores.”