Demand for lamb fairly strong; pork disappointing; bacon a star Beef sales over Easter reported as strong February household consumption data from Taylor Nelson Sofres seem awful because most figures for the corresponding period last year appeared abnormally good. But the situation is not as bad as the chart suggests. Beef purchases were 7.1% lower in the four weeks to March 3 than 12 months previously. But in the four weeks to March 4 last year TNS recorded a 9% increase. And for expenditure on beef, the 4.5% year-on-year decline this time looks just about acceptable after a rise of nearly 11% reported for the comparable period. Latest data are distorted by FMD, and some of the numbers on the supply side were further skewed in early 2001 by the continental BSE scare. Although that BSE shock did not seem to frighten consumers in the UK, it altered the supply volumes and prices of nearly all meats, especially Irish beef but also Continental pigmeat and even imported lamb. These distortions apart, the TNS numbers reflect marketplace gossip: retailer and consumer demand for beef before the immediate pre-Easter period was at best flat, with pressure on prices in the secondary wholesale trade; lamb was not always easy to find in the volumes needed, while demand seemed fairly strong; pork sales and prices were disappointing; but bacon was a star performer. More recent reports from the marketplace tell a happier story about beef. Latest MLC retail outlet results show some price weakness post Easter, but trade ahead of and over the holiday was strong. Even the softer prices are encouraging because they reflect more promotional activity by the multiples, a typical example being Somerfield's large joint special. More surprising is Somerfield's offer of half price New Zealand chilled lamb legs. Trade insiders have not been talking of demand problems in that category. {{MEAT }}