Meat trends – what’s getting the chop?

There are many different factors influencing the sales of meat, poultry and smallgoods.

Seasonality, product availability, the type or cut of meat, consumer diets and religious events all affect when, where and which types of meat Australians consume. But, somewhat unsurprisingly in today’s day and age, the most pressing factor influencing which protein we put on our fork is cost.

Although the popularity of specialised meats such as Wagyu, Angus, Hereford and  organic varieties appear to be popping up at restaurants and bars all over town, it’s the price conscious cuts that are leading the pack.

Both the foodservice and retail sectors are demonstrating a growing interest in ‘non-prime’ cuts of meat due to a price sensitive market, and chicken, with its distinct price advantage, is just as popular as ever.

So what does this mean for the meat and poultry industries? Will Australia continue to travel down the path of ‘cheaper is better’? Will the sentiment of quality over quantity kick in, and will chefs and food manufacturers have to be more inventive by experimenting with non-prime cuts to maintain brand equity and competitiveness?

What do the stats say?

2013 has been a rough year for Australia’s meat industry. The ongoing cattle crisis in the nation’s north, animal cruelty accusations – particularly within the poultry industry – and live export suspensions have made headlines around the globe.

A recent report from Meat and Livestock Australia stated that drought-induced adult cattle slaughter drove record-breaking increases in production from 2012-2013.

Australian beef and veal production surged six percent year-on-year, reaching 2.2 million tonnes – breaking the previous record which was set back in 2007-2008 by one percent, or 15,296 tonnes when similar climatic conditions were being experienced.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics meat production figures for the June quarter 2013 state that while each meat category has experienced an increase in production, (with the exception of lamb) beef has retained its position as Australia’s largest meat commodity, followed by chicken.

  • Beef production in the June quarter 2013 increased by one percent to 564,000 tonnes when compared to the previous quarter
  • Veal production in the June quarter 2013 increased by one percent  to 10,000 tonnes when compared to the March quarter 2013
  • In the June quarter 2013, mutton production increased by 16 percent to 58,000 tonnes, compared to the previous quarter
  • Lamb production in the June quarter 2013 remained steady at 115,000 tonnes when compared to the March quarter 2013
  • In the June quarter 2013, pig meat production increased by two percent to 91,000 tonnes, compared to the previous quarter
  • Chicken meat production increased by one percent to 263,000 tonnes when compared to the previous quarter

Although Australia produces a huge amount of red meat, the majority of it is exported overseas with figures in 2012 sitting at 62 percent, valued at $6.3b billion, according to Meat and Livestock Australia.

Industry’s cut on trends and demand

So when it comes to what Australians are actually consuming, a number of factors are driving current trends. Demand for more Australian meat and poultry products is growing, specialised cuts of meat are becoming increasingly popular and an increase in convenience food solutions are also on the rise amongst time-poor consumers.

Rod Miller, sales and product development manager for Sydney-based food manufacturer, P & H Fine Foods, says that above all else, price is the most determining factor in which meats Australians eat.

“Price is the main determinant in the general food market. If you are talking about specialised foodservice it’s different, but for general retail, it’s very price conscious at the moment,” Miller told Food magazine.

“People who want quality products will still pay for it, but at the same time, there are less and less people going down that market because there is no money in it for them.

“Everyone including the big name chefs are downsizing their style of cuisine to offer to wider markets, and that affects us as well because when they say, ‘we don’ t have a need for your product’ – we then have to change our range a little bit to suit the current trends.”

In order to keep up with market trends, Miller admits that P & H has had to adjust its product offering accordingly.

“Changes that we have had to make include [a focus on] lower quality products – it’s the price point basically. We look around general markets and everyone unfortunately, not so much the restaurants, but every other food outlet like pubs and clubs always have chicken schnitzel on the menu and you think why? Once again, it’s the price point.”

No matter how you slice it, cost leads the way

Miller says that within the foodservice sector, convenience and readymade solutions are becoming more popular due to a lack of skilled labour.

“Skilled labour and the cost of labour has affected the market in a big way and this is where our business comes into play more and more because of what we do. We make products that simplify things for the chefs – unskilled chefs – so the job is done to a consistent standard.”

When it comes to the types of meat currently in demand, Miller says that specialised cuts are popular, but chicken still reigns supreme.

“With the different cuts of meat it’s all in the naming of the cut – the wagyu, the angus, grass-fedproducts – they are quite popular and they look good on a menu”

“Duck and quail are popular only in certain markets and turkey is only a Christmas thing, but chicken is cost effective. You look at the price of a chicken breast compared to a steak, or to a duck or to a quail. You know, it’s value for money.”

Miller explains that an increased interest in nose to tail consumption has proven to be a valuable opportunity considering the industry’s push towards lower cost solutions.

“High end restaurants look for the non-prime cut of quality meat and think, ‘what can we do with this cut to make it special?’ And that way they can still command that higher price point by really using the chef’s ability. In the old days you would get a nice piece of fillet steak, now chefs have got to think, ‘what can I do with that bit of beef brisket? What can I do with it to make it really, really special?’”

Andrew Cox, group marketing manager for Meat and Livestock Australia agrees that a growing interest in non-prime cuts and the cost effectiveness of chicken are the driving trends in meat consumption today.

“I would say the key trends are increased interest in less traditional cuts and new flavours,” Cox told Food magazine.  “There is growing interest in non-prime cuts in both foodservice and retail. Beef brisket, beef cheeks, short ribs, chuck, flank, skirt, ox tail,and lamb neck and shoulder.”

“Chicken has a distinct price advantage so while that remains, it will be consumed the most – however beef is actually the largest fresh meat when you take into account the money spent on the product.”

Cox explains that the cost isn’t the only factor when it comes to meat consumption. Religion, lifestyle choices and demographic backgrounds also play are large part.

“There is increasing fragmentation in the core audience – less traditional families and more men cooking, people from Asian backgrounds, young singles/couples and empty nesters,” says Cox. 

“I do think there has been an increase in [demand for] convenience and ready made products but not an explosion, and only to the extent where the quality is as good as something cooked fresh.”

Chicken is the meat that continues to ruffle feathers

Sam Phylactou, group general manger at M&J Chickens, told Food magazine that when it comes to poultry, chicken will always remain on top.

“Firstly, our growing population and the tendency of white meat to be more popular than red meat, in my opinion, will keep chicken at the top in terms of poultry popularity,” he says.

“A few factors affect this – for example continued migration of Asian cultures and their preferred use of chicken in their cooking, cultural and religious influences also make chicken the preferred meat, as well as the dietary benefits of chicken.”

Phylactou adds that the health benefits of chicken as well as its price advantage are the main driving factors.

“Chicken in particular is viewed as a high source of protein, low in fat and part of a balanced diet which has been helped by a growing marketing campaign promoting chicken in Australia. It is also easily digested by the older population – which has resulted in an increase in sales amongst hospitals and the aged health care industry.

“Chicken is also competitively priced, which is a major influencer when it comes to poultry consumption over other meat options – the latest statistics indicate that chicken consumption in Australia is up to 45kg per capita.”

Despite chicken holding the crown as one of the most versatile and widely consumed meats, Phylactou says bad press and a push for free range products over recent years has also influenced sales.

“There have been some negative influences over the years which may have contributed to the overall sales of poultry, such as the bird flu outbreak, the treatment of chickens as portrayed by the media, as well as the media’s ]coverage] of growth hormones being used in chickens – which has in fact been banned in Australia since 1972.

“There has also been a growing demand for free range chicken, however the majority of our product is still barn-raised which continues to take preference over free range.”

So the consensus is clear: cost is king when it comes to Australians’ meat-eating habits. While nose to tail consumption is gaining traction as shown through the increased interest in non-prime cuts, consumers and manufacturers can’t go past the humble, low cost chicken at the checkout and on the menu.


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