June heatwave boosted steak trade, but total beef sales were flat Retail data show market narrow and volatile Britain's adoption of barbecue culture has produced the predictable surge in steak sales, weather permitting, but latest household purchase and expenditure figures from market researcher Taylor Nelson Sofres suggest this is a sign of instability rather than just a bonus for suppliers who assume beef demand is back on a steady growth path after the BSE disaster. Tropical temperatures over the June 17-18 weekend sent shoppers scrambling for the sirloin cuts. This clamour helped push steak purchases in the four weeks to June 25 up 11% against volume a year earlier, to the highest June level of the seven years covered by the TNS database. At first sight the new TNS figure for total beef purchases also indicates a strong performance, with volume 8% bigger than in the corresponding four weeks last year. MLC consumer marketing manager Chris Lamb welcomed the data: "If there was any question over people's attitudes to British beef before, this must be the final, overwhelming vote of confidence." But TNS data published in MLC's UK Market Survey show most consumers voted against beef or at least abstained. Although penetration was much better than a year earlier, the increase from 46.9% to 49.6% still meant more than half the surveyed households did not buy beef in the four week period. The rise in total beef purchases last month also needs to be seen against the background of an 8% drop year-on-year in June 1999 and a 3% fall recorded by TNS in 1998. Expenditure, meanwhile, is shown as up 3.4% in the latest period but was unchanged last year and had slumped 6% in 1998. Overall, these TNS figures give an impression of the household beef market now no bigger than in mid 1997, just over a year after the BSE crisis began, and perhaps smaller in expenditure terms. The data can be interpreted as confirming wholesalers' claims of the multiples needing to use aggressive pricing to stimulate purchase volume growth, and squeezing margins back up the supply chain. {{MEAT }}