Fall in British meat sales despite ‘horsegate’

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Annual British meat sales have fallen as the food industry failed to capitalise on ailing consumer confidence in the aftermath of the horsemeat affair early in the year.

Some 6,000 fewer tonnes of British meat was sold this year compared with 2012 – a one per cent drop – figures provided to the Yorkshire Post by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) show.

Optimism remains among the farming fraternity that consumers are changing their buying habits and demanding more British meat but sales this year have also been influenced by the weather, changes to the size of packs of meat sold at supermarkets and promotions of cheap imports, distorting the picture.

Richard Cullen, the AHDB’s market intelligence and consumer insight manager, expects British meat sales to show year-on-year growth in the new year, when the effects of the horsemeat scandal will have had more time to work their way through the system.

Explaining sales patterns throughout the year, Mr Cullen said the cold snap in March and April lifted meat sales but the long warm summer had the reverse effect as consumers switched to eating lighter meals. Barbecue season did see a comeback for burger sales, however.

“Consumers hadn’t really been buying burgers since ‘horsegate’ but they turned to them to put on the barbecue and suddenly it seemed like ‘horsegate’ had been forgotten. Sales went from being 20 per cent down to suddenly shooting up and a month later consumers seemed to remember why they had stopped buying burgers and sales dropped again.”

Another influential factor on fresh British meat sales this year, Mr Cullen said, was increasing prices.

“All meat has become more expensive throughout the year. Volume has been static at best and is possibly slowing down. One notable exception is lamb, driven mainly by New Zealand legs coming in cheap and having some very cheap deals offered on them.”

But consumer habits over the festive period are bound to give meat sales an uplift, he said.

“Getting into the end of October and into mid-November is when sales tend to pick up in the run up to Christmas. Pork is in demand, lamb is flat and beef is seeing year-on-year growth.

“It’s been a strange year with lots of things affecting the market in different ways. We had a wet summer in 2012 when meat sales did very well and we’ve had the opposite effect this summer.

“The figures suggest consumers are probably buying slightly less British meat but are spending more to buy it. What is encouraging is that we don’t think there’s a huge change in the number of packs of British meat people are buying but the size of packs has reduced to reach price points.”

Sales squeezed: Page 6