29th January 2016

Wide Range of Customers Underpin Scottish Red Meat Industry

The complexity of the red meat production process presents both challenges and opportunities for the industry, according to Stuart Ashworth, Head of Economics Services with Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Scotland’s abattoirs have a wide range of customers – from retailers to secondary processors and while the largest often have significant trade with multiple retail chains and manufacturers across the UK and Europe, the smaller plants serve the needs of high street butchers. 

“Our red meat production process is underpinned by a diverse range of routes from farmgate to consumer plate,” said Mr Ashworth. “Specialist butchers shops have an important role to play, but market research specialists Kantar reveal that only 20% of consumers buy meat and meat products from specialist butcher shops, highlighting the significance of multiple retailers to the sales of meat and meat products.”

The concentration of slaughtering capacity in Scotland is another significant factor. “During 2015 24 Scottish abattoirs produced some 169,000 tonnes of beef, 27,500 tonnes of sheep meat and 23,500 tonnes of pig meat.  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.”

Closer analysis, he said, reveals a decline in prime cattle numbers of 3.2% but an increase of nearly 7% in mature cow and bull slaughtering.  At the same time the carcase weight of prime cattle increased by around 7 kg 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.  Reduced sheepmeat production was therefore entirely due to an almost halving in the number of ewes and rams killed in Scotland,” stated Mr Ashworth.

Scotland’s population is, according to official sources, around 5.35 million and if each of these people consumer 20kg of beef per person (around 10-15% more than the average UK consumer) Scotland would need around 100,000 tonnes of beef or about 60% of abattoir production. 

In other words, observed Mr Ashworth, Scotland is 170% self-sufficient in beef.  A similar analysis shows Scotland to be about 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.

It must be recognised, though, that not all meat sold in Scotland is 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 Mr 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.”

It is not surprising, then, that over a number of years Scottish abattoirs have reported that some three-quarters of their sales are to customers outside Scotland.  While exports outwith the UK take around 6-7% of beef and 25-30% of sheepmeat sales, the majority of customers are in England and Wales. 

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

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