UK organic beef consumption rose by 15-20% in 2006 and is forecast to grow even further in the next few years.
Speaking at the Soil Association Conference, in Stoneleigh, Bob Bansback, (pictured) director at the Red Meat industry Forum, (RMIF) said that almost two-thirds of organic beef consumption was now through the multiple retail chain.
"But retailers are not able to source enough of this growing demand from British beef producers (although their customers would prefer domestically sourced products)," he said.
He added that forecasts of market growth suggest that an extra 15-20,000 heads of finished cattle would be required to satisfy increasing domestic demand by 2010.
"This assumes the current market share of 60% domestic and 40% imports. If UK producers were to capture the whole market the demand would be an additional 36,000 head of cattle."
Bansback indicated that market research is showing some distinctive characteristics of the British organic beef consumer.
"Of notable importance is a striking regional imbalance in consumption trends, with consumption levels being the highest in London and the South East," he said.
He also pointed out that organic beef consumption, at 1% of the total market for beef as a whole, has a lower market share than products in general, and that there was a marked variation in the performance of different organic beef cuts. Mince and stewing joints do well while steaks and roasting joints less well.
On the production side, Bansback explained that there was scope for sourcing more beef from the dairy herd.
"Lack of consistency in quality is also an issue and there is a real role for marketing groups to play in these structural areas," he said.
Bansback also talked about the costs of organic beef production which he said were 20-25% more than conventional beef production.
Factors, he highlighted, were: higher fixed costs; significantly higher feed costs and longer finishing periods.
However, better benchmarking could result in significant savings. Overall there was a real opportunity for some British beef producers.
Success, he said required actions from all parts of the supply chain and the RMIF was willing to facilitate this.