Is the devolution of promotional acitivity for beef and lamb a good thing, asks Alyson Magee

You could be forgiven for thinking that there is no such thing as British meat any more. In the wake of the devolution of many MLC activities to Quality Meat Scotland, HCC and Eblex, and with vigorous activity by the LMC in Northern Ireland, millions of pounds are being poured into the promotion of beef and lamb that just has to be eaten because it is Scotch, Welsh, English or Northern Irish.
Add to the scenario the work being done by the multiples to promote regional sourcing within England, whether in the West Country or Northumbria, and the meat industry is certainly making a meal of devolutionary zeal. The picture is further complicated by the fact that while the English and Northern Irish campaigns stick to their home markets, the Scotch and Welsh are advertising in some English regions.
The question is, are taxpayer and farmer levy funds being well spent? Who is really benefiting?
British Meat Processors Association director Peter Scott says the sector is concerned about the future of British branding, with many of his members handling boundary-crossing cattle. The pot for British campaigns is empty, he claims, as the Welsh and Scots are reluctant to pay for them.
And as for the farmers - the levy payers - many feel such campaigns are a waste of time, says Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association. “Prices at farm levels for beef cattle are 9% less than this time last year. Farmers are saying - what’s the point if we are not adding value in order that we get more money at farm level?” Forster says the only winners are the retailers, who shift more meat, regardless of whether it is from England, Wales or Brazil.
Ask the promotional quangos themselves and they point to robust sales hikes as a result of this year’s campaigns. Eblex has earmarked £14.2m of levypayers’ money to spend on its Quality Standard Mark. It says its £4.5m cartoon cricketers press and TV campaign for beef and lamb drove up sales by an additional £4m in the first eight weeks.
Eblex head of marketing Andrew Garvey welcomes the competition. “It generates interest in meat. With beef cattle prices so low, it exposes consumers to awareness of the different offers out there. It brings more to the party than it takes away.” Competitive in-store promotions also benefit all in the sector by creating excitement at the fixture, he says.
The competition’s biggest hitter is Glen, who first arrived on Scottish TV in 2001. This summer, Glen muscled in on some English regions at a cost of £1m. “Our decision to compete for a bigger share of the premium sector in England is a natural next step following our dominance in Scotland,” says a QMS spokeswoman.
As for the Welsh, last year’s £500,000 lamb campaign resulted in a sales boost of £1.5m, says HCC marketing manager Stewart Pope. Bolstering claims that the devolved campaigns benefit the sector as a whole, fresh lamb’s share of the total meat market rose by more than a percentage point above the GB average in the targeted regions during the campaign [TNS].
This year’s Passion on a Plate campaign for beef and lamb is airing on ITV Central and Meridian in the South East as well as on HTV. LMC has embarked on its latest TV campaign for its Farm Quality Assurance scheme lamb, with a ‘balanced’ health message featuring a female juggler that targets younger consumers. LMC’s TV lamb campaign of 2002 and 2003 contributed to increases of 17% in consumption, 34% in expenditure and 28% in frequency of purchase [TNS].
But what is the overall backdrop for red meat sales? Sales in the GB fresh and frozen red meat sector rose 5% to £2.8bn in the year to December 2004 [TNS], some evidence that regional campaigns appear to be benefiting the bottom line overall.
Nevertheless, the farmers feel that ultimately the consumer will not benefit from them.
They think the money spent would be better invested in helping them prepare for decoupling of subsidies in 2013, when their businesses will be totally market-dependent.
Without such help, more farmers could go out of business and the consumer will, as a result, be left with less choice, and higher prices.