Connecting with the consumer

CQLP is an independent livestock marketing co-operative based in the South West, totally owned by its 200+ farmer members who benefit from marketing their beef and lamb stock together. We spoke to Cornish farmer and CQLP Chairman, Peter Chapman, to find out the latest trends in the marketplace and what this means for South West livestock producers. 

“The picture in the South West is similar to the rest of the country. Hundreds of farmers supply meat that feeds millions of customers, but 85% of that meat is sold via a handful of processors to five main supermarkets,” explains Peter. “In the past two years, Covid and Brexit have reminded retailers of the importance of a secure supply. We are seeing them trying to tie farms into longer-term contracts, but this doesn’t necessarily bring greater returns to the farmer. We saw prices move up by 5% on average when meat supply tightened. This doesn’t sound much but it makes a big difference to a farm’s potential profit margins.”

Peter believes farmers must understand consumer needs to extract the most value possible for the animals they rear. “There needs to be demand for our product, which means listening to customers and learning what they like and value. For example, Aberdeen Angus beef has attracted a premium price for a while now, because it has been identified and marketed by retailers as a quality, top-tier product. Shoppers now seek out Angus beef over other breeds for its perceived eating quality, in a similar way to a Pink Lady apple in the fresh produce sector. Clearly, this is an incentive to produce this breed over another, but the story around Angus or South Devon (native breed, marbled meat etc.) is equally applicable to Hereford. Here, we need to work with retailers to educate shoppers about the benefits of alternative breeds if we want to attract a similar premium for them.” 

“Producing a consistent product is also crucial. If a shopper has a bad steak, they remember it for a long time and, as one of the more expensive cuts of meat, they aren’t going to buy another one in a hurry. Retailers need to know their customers can be sure of buying a cut that looks and eats in the same way as the one they bought the week before. Although absolute consistency is difficult when producing meat and it’s frustrating when animals don’t grade out as expected, we need to be mindful of customer demands.”

“Finally, no one is going to gain if we just focus on price. We provide excellent traceability, environmental credentials and high animal welfare standards which all add value to our products. But again, we must help the consumer understand the value of this and persuade them these attributes are worth paying for. This is something every farmer can do. Don’t underestimate the value of stopping and having a conversation with a member of the public looking over your fence or taking up the opportunity to speak at a WI event, for example.  Most people have a lot of questions about livestock farming and how we take care of our animals - it’s amazing how many myths you can dispel in just one conversation. We must do all we can to ensure consumers continue to buy beef and lamb with confidence,” Peter concludes.