17th December 2020

A Year in Review

By Alan Clarke, Chief Executive, and Kate Rowell, Chair of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS)

2020 brought a world-wide human pandemic that has presented major health challenges to us all.  This combined with the associated economic challenges has proven to be a year where the Scottish red meat sector has had to adapt to fast changing developments.  No part of the sector has been immune, the impact has been experienced by livestock farmers, processors, auction marts, livestock hauliers, feed merchants, food service providers, butchers, and retailers.  New ways of working have had to be been introduced and this has provided opportunities for consumers to reconnect with their food and where it comes from.  It’s essential that we support our levy payers to capitalise on these new opportunities over the next few years.   

Almost overnight the food service market closed, exports became almost impossible and retail consumer demand for red meat and other food products increased seismically.   The whole supply chain had to react and adhere to new social distancing measures and learn a completely new language including phrases like lockdown, furloughing, new normal, self-isolation, key workers and support bubbles to name but a few

Within days auction marts had developed new operating protocols with only buyers allowed at the ring, processors had introduced social distancing measures to ensure processing lines remained operating, butchers developed e-commerce delivery and click and collect capability, retailers increased the number of home delivery slots available at their stores, catering butchers started selling direct to consumers and changing large food service packs into retail packs.  There was a real paradox of increasing retail demand and lower farm gate prices.  However, this quickly started to change and prices for cattle, sheep and pigs rose and have continued to do so steadily throughout the year. 

Overall retail demand for red meat had increased year on year by more than 20% prior to the Eat Out to Help Out campaign.  With many working from home, cooking from scratch has become popular again and the average household has gone from cooking five meals at home per week to 26!  A new generation has started to reconnect with their food and farmers have gained a positive reputation for feeding the nation during a worldwide health crisis.  The world wants to eat local and this gives opportunities as well as challenges.

As well as coping with changes in consumer behaviour and changed work practices we also have the European Union transition period ending on the 31st December and the continued frustration of not knowing what future trading arrangements with the EU will look like.  It is certain however that whether there is a trade deal or not, there will be changes in how businesses function, and animal health certificates will be required for any red meat products that are imported or exported into or out of the UK. With the UK / Europe trade border being in the middle of the Irish sea this will also apply to products travelling between Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Its incredulous that, at the time of writing with only 6 weeks to go, businesses still do not know what they will have to deal with. But while 2021 will bring many challenges, the red meat sector has demonstrated its resilience during 2020 and the need to protect our high animal welfare standards and our precious PGI status is paramount for the sector.  When the EU transition period is completed, and the pandemic is over there will be a need to re-set the sector.  We need to capitalise on consumer goodwill and shout about our actions to mitigate climate change and the contribution that the red meat sector is making towards national targets.  COP 26 coming to Glasgow in 2021 will give a real focus to this.  Economically this has been a year where many sectors including transport, hospitality and food service have been nearly wiped out.  The red meat sector has been sheltered from this and QMS will be focused on providing leadership for our industry and Government in Scotland.  Supply chain profitability is essential to develop a confident sector that invests in its future.  To achieve our aim, we will work collaboratively with the whole red meat supply chain and Government, to bolster supply chain efficiency, brand integrity and consumer confidence.

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