The recovery of UK beef values is showing signs of reaching a plateau, as consumer demand takes its usual summer holiday.

Beef prices continued to rise in June, but at just 2p/kg deadweight, the growth rate has halved compared to the previous month. It brings the average price to 210.1p/kg, according to MLC data - 15.5p per kilogram higher than the average beef price for June 2005.

"Prices are levelling off as we enter the summer period - a time when beef consumption tends to dip slightly as people, both here and in the rest of Europe go away on holiday," said MLC beef economist Duncan Sinclair. "Consumption patterns change and become less predictable during hot weather and there's a switch away from traditional meals using minced beef, for example, and towards cold meats and burgers. But despite this beef prices are still edging up," he added.

But compared with the 8p/kg jump in April, just before export restrictions were eased, there is a clear slow down. The National Beef Association has issued a statement warning processors not to put downward pressure on prices.

But its chairman Duff Burrell says that he is fairly bullish about the prospects for producers.

"The days when processors who are being squeezed by their own customers could automatically get themselves out of income trouble by leaning on beef farmers are over," he declared.

"Retailers are realising this and are beginning to inflate shop prices so there is more money in the system and a better chance of positive margins."

The multiples all followed Tesco's move last week to add £1/kg to the retail value of sirloin steaks, and a similar effect is being seen on lean mince, where recent three-for-two price offers have been dropped.

Combined with rising export volumes, this willingness to improve margins rather than turnover promised to keep prices firm, Burrell said.

He predicted another rise this summer if retailers sales volumes stood up to higher prices.