Adding punch to the bottom line

Being able to reassure customers about the safety and provenance of the food they eat, is proving to be a money spinner, whether the client be further processor or end user

More than 2,000 abattoirs, processors, distributors, retailers and caterers are signed up to the Quality Standard scheme of the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX), as of this month. Launched in September 2004, the beef and lamb standards are independently audited to EN45011 standards, and embrace the concept of ?provenance plus? by covering seasonality and maturation, as well as traceability and husbandry.

Only beef and lamb born, reared and slaughtered in England can be identified as English, although the scheme is also open to other compliant British and EU member state suppliers with their flag of origin applied to the logo. UK members signed up to the scheme to date include eight multiple retailers, 1,337 independent retailers, 70 catering butchers, 22 abattoirs, 48 wholesalers, 36 processors and 35 distributors. A further 70 restaurants, 58 hotels, 314 pubs, two catering wholesalers and three catering manufacturers are also members. "The response has been phenomenal, but it is essential we continue to recruit new scheme members to build on this success," says Phil Davies, EBLEX trade sector manager.

"With our marketing investment we are stimulating demand from consumers, so ensuring product is available in-store is crucial if we are to deliver what our research tells us they want. It's important that when they go out to buy EBLEX Quality Standard beef and lamb they can find it."

Membership of the eight supermarkets creates 8,000-plus outlets which could, subject to availability, stock EBLEX Quality Standard beef and lamb. "That's a major breakthrough and a recognition of the rigorous standards imposed by the scheme and the belief that this can offer a real opportunity to meet consumer need for consistently top quality beef and lamb," says Davies.

"Now, with more abattoirs becoming assured, opportunities are opening up for more independent retailers to become part of the EBLEX Quality Standard scheme."

According to EBLEX, issues such as food safety, health and animal welfare continue to be of importance to consumers, while growing demand is emerging for consistency of quality and integrity in the supply chain.

Adoption of the EBLEX Quality Standard is an opportunity to exploit a brand which consumers will increasingly seek, as their awareness of the guarantees that the standard embodies continues to grow, claims the promotional body.

"It's about the supply chain working together, from farmer to retailer, to make the most of this opportunity to sell more beef and lamb," says Davies. "The standard will affect consumer purchasing decisions in the high street, resulting not only in an increase in volume sales but also in value as research has shown assured products can attract a premium, so it's also a real bottom line booster."

According to EBLEX, in-store consumer research commissioned in April, yielded 80%-plus of shoppers saying they would consider buying QSM beef and lamb. Further, 49% of respondents had bought QSM beef or lamb that day, compared with 28% during the same period in 2005, and 65% of surveyed shoppers considered it important to see the QSM label on pack. Additional independent media evaluation reported that 97.5% of housewives with children - the target group - had seen the QSM media campaign 18.3 times on average during the past 12 months.

Price segmentation is commencing within the English beef market, the promotional body claims, with the average retail price of English beef 79p/kg higher than that of imported beef over the 12 months to March. English beef also attracted an average premium of 22p/kg over home- produced? or UK beef, according to EBLEX figures.

EBLEX chairman John Cross says: "This is encouraging news for the industry coming as it does on the back of more stable prices for farmers and increasing beef and lamb consumption. After just over a year of QSM in the consumer marketplace, it is clear the EBLEX strategy of seeking to differentiate QSM product is starting to take effect."

The launch of the EBLEX QSM for beef mince in March has also helped drive beef mince sales in retailers and independent outlets. In the four weeks to 26 March, retail volume sales of beef mince increased by 15.1% on the same period last year, while sales increased by over 24% in independent butchers in England. Over the past 12 months, home-produced lamb has increased its

supermarket share by 2.9% in value and 3.5% in volume.

In the pig sector, the British Pig Executive (BPEX) is investing in a three-year project aimed at adding value to farm assurance by evaluating the possible inclusion of a number of on-farm observations of health and welfare outcomes within Assured British Pigs (ABP) scheme inspections.

The project will look at the ability of the assessment to add value for producers by improving health and reducing costs, and for consumers by improving welfare assurance. Potential benefits to industry, such as helping the UK sector maintain its competitive position and to regulators in terms of compliance with legislation, will also come under review.

BPEX director of pig industry development Mark Wilson says: "We will be disseminating lessons learnt to stakeholders and, where relevant, directly to assessors within certification bodies. We will include the retailers in the dissemination discussions to be sure they are aware that high standards of welfare in the UK continue to set this country apart."

Dr David Main at Bristol University has been commissioned to undertake the £399,000 project in collaboration with Professor Sandra Edwards of Newcastle University and Richard Campbell Chairman of ABP. Financial support has been provided by the State Veterinary Service, ABP, AFS and Newcastle University.

Meanwhile, BPEX continues to promote its QS mark for pork, bacon, ham and sausages to retailers, caterers and consumers, highlighting the differing animal welfare standards behind production in other countries exporting to the UK. The UK's other devolved meat promotion bodies - Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) and the Livestock & Meat Commission (LMC) of Northern Ireland - also continue to push their own quality assurance schemes.

HCC and QMS both enjoy EU Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI) status through their beef and lamb assurance schemes. QMS also accredits Scottish pigmeat, and beef and lamb not meeting the PGI Scotch label requirements, through its Specially Selected Farm Assurance Scheme.

Membership of QMS schemes rose by 261 to 11,612 members last autumn, of which 10,994 are enrolled in the cattle and sheep schemes. Scottish Food Quality Certification conducts the inspections on behalf of QMS.

The LMC boasts about 12,000 members of its Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb (NIBL) Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS). Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification monitors and accredits members. All Northern Irish meat plants participate in the Assured British Meat Assurance Scheme for Abattoirs, Cutting and Packing plants which, together with NIBL FQAS, makes their produce eligible to carry the Red Tractor logo