The UK beef sector needs to chase better eating quality rather than yield, because consumer satisfaction is everything.

According to influential US Stabiliser breeder Lee Leachman: “You should be worried you are not producing lovely steaks. As a beef consumer I would say that would be my concern in the UK. I am not saying it tongue and cheek. The UK should put a quality grid in place.”

Mr Leachman is the third generation of the USA Leachman cattle ranching family which developed the Stabiliser breed. He runs the Leachman Cattle company in Colorado which is now the third largest seed stock supplier in the United States, with a base of 12,500 fully performance recorded cows, and markets nearly 2500 bulls and 60,000 units of beef semen annually. He is currently on a tour round UK farms delivering talks on the composite breed.

Whilst acknowledging that consumers resist fat content in supermarkets, Mr Leachman advised the UK industry to produce better marbled beef to ensure costumer satisfaction. He said: “Marbled beef is getting a real premium in the US. Higher than any other time in history. Global and domestic demand for good beef is through the roof. A steer hitting the top ‘prime’ marbled grade is getting $2500 compared to $2000 for a less marbled animal.”

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However UK beef market is not identical to the US with so much of the carcase being sold as mince with consumers choosing packs with only 5 to 10% fat content. Mr Leachman said that the US has moved away from this trend with their huge burger market demanding beef at least 15% fat to ensure flavour in the patties. He said: “I have no doubt our market is being driven by the quality end and the upper value cuts. Beyond the classic steaks we are seeing rising demand for cuts like prime brisket for BBQ as well as tri tip and flank for gilling. And all the customers are demanding a good eating experience.”

According to Ohio university, 7.4% of carcases his prime grade from 2016 to 2019 where the beef will be described as having abundant levels of marbling within the muscle. To determine a beef grade, the USDA grader looks specifically at the amount of marbling in the ribeye muscle between the 12th and 13th ribs. However Mr Leachman explained that recently around 18% of cattle were hitting the grade but the increased supply is doing nothing to dampen demand. He said the premium for marbled beef had more than tripled in recent years.

Bringing it back to the UK, Mr Leachman felt that as a 'high cost' producer of beef, the industry should be focusing on quality over quantity. “You have to get that high quality market for UK beef or face not making any more,” he explained. “Trying to compete in the lean meat sector with chicken and pork is a losing battle. The way you win is by producing a nice steak as marbling means juiciness and flavour.

"If the UK beef sector doesn’t start paying on marbling it is going to miss the boat," he warned. "Australia and the US have the system which can reward consistent quality. It is all about controlling the protein at the centre of the plate.”