Meat market: rising prices and changing diets

People’s diets are changing and prices are rising. Priyanka Jethwa discovers what it takes to still be a red meat champion.

With more consumers leaning towards flexitarian or vegan and vegetarian diets for health reasons, wholesalers need to carefully consider how they can avoid a sales slump and a loss of profit when it comes to their meat sales – particularly red meat, which has seen damning headlines in the national press over the past decade.

But red meat sales remain healthy, according to those in the know. Mike Whittemore is head of trade and product development at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), a levy board funded by the supply chain. He says that research shows only a very small percentage of people have reduced their red meat intake in recent years on health grounds. “The average red meat intake in the UK is within the government guidelines of 70g per day, so any suggestion that red meat needs to be reduced may adversely affect the health of some population groups,” he adds. “Red meat is a source of protein and other essential nutrients.”

Mark Cornall, sales and marketing manager at Welsh supplier-wholesaler The Burger Manufacturing Company, backs this. He says that despite “sensationalist claims that red meat is bad for you”, he doesn’t recall any conversations with customers that have eluded to this. In fact, the company has seen sales of red meat increase by more than 100% since 2012, proving just how important this category is to the wholesale channel. This is in line with the continued success of gourmet burger chains and street food vendors.

Generally, sales of meat in the foodservice sector have been declining in terms of volume. However, quality or premiumisation is in vogue. Peter Backman, a consultant specialising in the foodservice sector, adds: “People are seeking more value for the money they spend and expecting ‘nicer’ foods to eat for the money they spend.”

So, how can you deliver quality cuts at a competitive and enticing price, while making your red meat range as profitable as possible?

This feature will help you become a red meat champion, leaving you in no doubt as to what is the best range to carry, and in what format/presentation style, what the key trends are, and how to make the most of the desire for premiumisation.

Nice and easy

The premium trend has grown in the past few years, particularly with burgers – so much so, in fact, that fast-food giant McDonald’s has embarked on a mission to change its reputation, with TV advertising bigging up its sourcing and quality credentials, a drive to offer table service in some of its outlets, and the introduction of its premium Signature burger range.

Research body Mintel says it expects the gourmet burger restaurant segment to grow in value by 4.6% this year to reach sales of £4.7bn, with the market growing 15% between 2017 and 2022.

But, while burgers have headed down a gourmet route in which diners are encouraged to enjoy them as sit-down meals, they can still be treated as an ‘easy-meal ‘option that can be eaten on-the-go, for those who prefer to. Your meat category will therefore also need to be geared towards delivering on that requirement.

Demand for quick and easy foods has resulted in a growth in sous-vide dishes – a method of cooking involving vacuum-packing. This has been seen most notably with pork ribs and pulled-pork, and it is a trend that persists.

Wholesalers looking to stock more easy-prep dishes may, therefore, find it useful to look at vacuum-packed meats to feed into this trend. Good marketing, with engaging point-of-sale (PoS) material and serving suggestions that show how sous-vide cooking can help save time and money, can help to inspire your current meat shoppers to try new things as well as attract new customers.

Harveys Pure Meats is a Norfolk-based butchery that commands its own wholesale division, serving cafés, zoos and restaurants. Manager Adrian Clarke says that it has also seen increasing requests for premium cuts that come pre-prepared.

Clarke adds: “Time is precious and people want pre-prepared meats, so we try to cater for that by offering bespoke recipes for some of our customers, especially restaurants that want a ‘featured menu’. This helps attract new customers who are looking for a point of difference and we as a business strive to provide that.”

One of the biggest benefits of serving premium red meat is that quality cuts reduce wastage as you are only getting the meat you want. Thus, be sure to offer this as a point of difference and use it to your advantage to entice those customers conscious of their carbon footprint.

Tom Styman-Heighton, development chef at Welwyn Garden City-based wholesaler Funnybones Foodservice, says being an American, Tex Mex and Caribbean specialist, the company has seen casual dining trends in the UK develop very quickly. It keeps an eye on the trends it sees taking off in the US, to select those it thinks will be popular in the UK.

Styman-Heighton notes: “When it comes to meat, the priority is to ensure that we deliver the authentic flavours of the Americas with the quality assurances that we expect in the domestic market.”

Current meat trends Styman-Heighton points to include small bites, which can be served as part of sharing platters or alone as bitesized snacks. He adds: “One of the best ways to offer on-trend meat products is to flavour them with sauces.”


One of the biggest challenges the market is facing in wholesale is price fluctuation. Beacon, a purchasing consultancy, recently revealed that the cost of beef is at an all-time high, with prices up nearly 40% per kilogramme compared to July last year. It predicts that the price of pork is also set to rise.

Alice Bexon, purchasing manager at Beacon, says: “This presents a real challenge for wholesalers, as it is only a matter of time before businesses will be unable to swallow these increases, meaning they will inevitably filter down through the supply chain to the end-consumer if they remain at these levels.”

To counteract inflation, wholesalers need to ensure they have the perfect, most profitable and most on-trend range to keep sales flowing, especially in an economy as uncertain as the UK’s. One way wholesalers can achieve this is by offering a wide range of products from both the value and premium ends of the spectrum.

One meat trend that has seen decline, though, is roasting, despite suppliers making joints easier and quicker to cook.

However, Nick Allen, chief executive at the British Meat Processors Association, says: “I think we must accept that roasts are in long-term decline. Having said that, let’s not give up on them as a completely lost cause. Instead, let’s just make sure that when people do buy a roast, it is easy to cook and gives a great result.”

To achieve this, he says, point-of-sale (PoS) material is key.

Beefing up

Suppliers and wholesalers alike are investing to get on top of the meat category. Glasgow wholesaler Lomond Wholesale recently announced that it is significantly bolstering its offering to butchers throughout Scotland. Its range now includes a selection of British beef and pork – with British-reared beef and chicken being its bestsellers this year.

Furthermore, The Burger Manufacturing Company has also just invested £4m in a new beefburger production facility that has increased production by 100%. Cornall says that in terms of trends – most notably concerning the provenance of meats – the company has seen a shift in customers leaning towards “quality products with a higher meat content, such as gourmet burgers”.

National delivered wholesaler Brakes has also recently extended its beef portfolio to 11 new Scottish beef products that have EU ‘protected geographical indication’ status. John McLintock, operations director for Brakes Scotland, says this has been a direct result of customer demand, once again demonstrating how important the beef market is, and how essential it is that you have a quality range of this product of your own.

Working with London-based butcher Fairfax Meadow, Beacon has also witnessed a rise in demand for rib-eye steaks, a product that is something of an expensive choice for operators to supply. But Beacon’s Bexon says one way to counteract this is to use rump steak as an alternative to manage costs, as the demand for this cut is still lower in relation to other prime steak cuts.

Whether you’re looking at adapting your meat range to cater for the burger trend or the rise in the food-to-go market, theatre, highlighting quality and speaking to suppliers about what’s on-trend are absolutely fundamental in making the most out of a category that still has a lot of life left in it yet.


“While we have seen a decrease in steak consumption, that’s not to say that there has been a drastic reduced consumption in red meat all around, and more to the point, nor do I foresee something like that happening.

“One thing we would like to see from wholesalers, though, is meat that has a longer shelf life.”

Pav Sahota, Raw Store, Shoreditch, East London

“Meat wholesalers should be adaptable by having a larger supply chain to fulfil orders. I recently had to take lamb off the menu as a supplier doubled the price due to the season.

“There has been a trend towards exotic and wild meats: our wild venison burgers get more popular each year, even from first-time customers.”

STEVE BRAND, Buckland Burgers gourmet burger stall, Bristol

We opened a year ago as we found a huge demand for gourmet-style burgers. People like gourmet burgers because of the quality it offers in terms of the meat itself. We top our beef bourguignon burger with three different options of French cheese to help make it stand out from the crowd.

“Pleasingly, our wholesaler provides us with what we need to make this happen.”

Jeanne Bolloré, The Patate gourmet burger stall, London



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