Sales of red and white meat improved significantly in 2020 – while beef and lamb values remain well above those of this time last year and the five-year average, consumer confidence is waning, which could affect future demand.

That was the take home message from Steve Evans, senior consumer insight manager at AHDB, who said 2020 had been a lot more positive for livestock producers, with 24% more consumers actively looking to buy British, which in turn led to increased meat sales on the year.

Steve Evans AHDB senior consumer insight manager

Steve Evans AHDB senior consumer insight manager

“2020 was the year consumers showed more positivity towards buying local and buying British. They were buying British to help support farmers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and as a result of the uncertainty relating to Brexit,” said Mr Evans, who was speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference, on Tuesday, staged for the first time as a virtual event.

With more people working from home and cooking from scratch with the closure of the food sector, he said the retail spend on steaks, burgers and mince had increased by a massive £108.1m, £92.3m and £90.9m, respectively on the year from January to the end of November, 2020.

However, while more people are still working from home in 2021, he added that the amount of cooking from scratch has not reached the same levels as March, 2020.

With increasing concerns over lockdown, the economy, and job security, predicting red meat sales for 2021 is more challenging too.

“A lot depends on how long the uncertainty will last. There are already signs that consumers are seeking out the cheaper cuts.

“One thing that is clear is that meat has to be versatile and quick and easy to cook. If people are working from home they need to be inspired to cook and while consumers are more interesting in their health, a lot more could be done within the sector to highlight the nutritional benefits of meat.”

He also added that a lot more people are looking to protect the world they live in, with two thirds of consumers actively considering the environment when purchasing food. But while the farming industry is ‘trusted,’ 53% of consumers worryingly, perceive a vegan diet to be more environmentally friendly.

Instead, the latest economic uncertainty faced by many has resulted in a change in consumer priorities, with 48% of those questioned in survey last month, being more price conscious.

Of those, more people are also buying products on promotion (61%) and are trading down – either by buying own label instead of branded (55%) or buying value ranges (43%). Almost half (47%) say they have started shopping in cheaper stores.

It is the youngest consumers who have become more price conscious – 49% of 16-44’s compared to 39% of over 45s – highlighting the unequal economic impact of the pandemic.

Mr Evans added that younger consumers are normally more price conscious than older but have become even more so over the course of the pandemic.

And, while habitual office workers have tended to save money due to taking fewer holidays, saving on commuting costs and eating at home more, the savings have been much less for those who could not previously afford to take holidays or eat out very often. It is that group who have been most likely to see their income fall via furlough or redundancy.

According to YouGov, the cost of food is now the biggest consideration for shoppers (65%), ahead of preparation time (59%) and health (58%).

Despite the continued uncertainty, prime beef values are nevertheless heading northwards with the latest all Scottish heifer price levelling at 389.2p per dwkg, up almost 3p on the week, while steers cashed in at 388.4p, up 1.6p.

The figures, for the week ending January 23, also point to top prices of 397.5p achievable for a 3-U heifer, which coupled with further price rises this week, mean a good number of cattle are now achieving £4 per deadweight kg.

Old season lamb values have slipped, but with the GB deadweight SQQ lamb price rising an impressive 50.2p on the week to average 568.8p per kg, mid January, this is the highest price achieved in the last two years and puts the measure a massive 114.1p above the same week in 2020.