By Kate Rowell, Chair of Quality Meat Scotland
The Covid pandemic has a quiet hero – red meat. In this hour of need, people have turned to red meat to keep kids fed through home schooling, to comfort them with hearty home-cooking, to celebrate occasions at home, and to provide a treat during the daily monotony.
With restrictions on eating out, shoppers bought 14% more red meat in the year to 24 January, compared to the year before, according to Kantar Worldpanel data – a spending increase of 17%.
All red meat saw increased demand, and despite somewhat subdued Christmas and January festivities, volume sales of beef were up nearly 20%, lamb 24%, and pork 29% over this period.
As people reconnected with red meat, many also returned to butchers, sought out farm shops, and found joy and reassurance in connecting with the people and places that produce their food.
In Scotland, origin is now the driving force pushing up meat sales, according to Kantar, and 67% of people surveyed by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) in summer 2020, said they were now more aware of trying to buy local food and drink.
Running in parallel with this and not going anywhere, is consumer’s growing concern about climate change and the role diet, and meat in particular, play.
This too, though, should be welcomed. What both these trends mean, is that we’re farming at a time when consumers increasingly want to engage with their food, know where it comes from, and how it’s produced – this is something farmers have been crying out for, for decades.
Rather than launch a defensive battle, let’s take this opportunity to engage positively, inform properly, and tell our own story. We are in an excellent position to do so, and farmers are the most trusted part of the supply chain.
As livestock farming goes, the UK is one of the most sustainable in the world, with beef and lamb production emitting 35% less carbon dioxide than the global average, according to the UN’s FAO.
Over 90% of what Scottish beef cattle and sheep are fed is grass, silage and brewers grain. Additionally, 80% of our agricultural land is grassland, which helps to capture and store CO2, and support habitats and biodiversity.
This is a strong story to engage with consumers on – both domestically and abroad – many of whom are dabbling with meat alternatives, but are still on the fence trying to decide what is ethical and healthy.
Take Veganuary, 70% of people who take part give up after two weeks, and once the month is over, even participants who have stayed the course are more inclined to reduce or swap foods rather than adopt a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet.
We have the chance to cut through the misinformation and show them that the right kind of red meat – home grown on our soils – can be part of a sustainable and ethical diet.
Part of that communication must show how far our sector has come – Scottish agriculture, for example, decreased its green house gas emissions by 29% between 1990 and 2017 – but also how relentlessly we will continue to pursue improvements.
We must also engage with the biggest reason consumers are choosing to cut out meat – health concerns. Again, we have a chance to dispel a lot of misinformation and QMS will be making health a central part of our campaigns this year.
Red meat is naturally rich in protein, low in salt and provides a range of vitamins and minerals including iron, potassium, zinc, niacin. B12, in particular, is not naturally present in vegan diets, but can boost energy, support bone health, improving mood and maintain healthy skin and hair.
So rather than get defensive, let’s welcome consumers renewed interest in their food, and red meat in particular, and use it to positively promote our industry’s benefits.