Gossip among major retailers and wholesalers is of demand for most meats rather soft, but trade talk does not give quite the same impression as these latest figures from Taylor Nelson Sofres. The beef purchase and spending shortfalls in particular are said to have been less dramatic than indicated by the TNS data. One striking feature of the new numbers is that some of them mirror equally surprising changes a year ago: in the four weeks to July 23 2000 beef purchases were up nearly 13% and expenditure almost 7%, while lamb purchases were estimated close to 11% greater than 12 months previously and pork volume had appeared to increase by almost 9%. In other words, the latest figures put overall carcase meat cuts and joints purchases and spending back to about where they were two years ago, casting doubt on FMD as a seriously depressing influence. Perhaps it has been, but why then did the market grow so strongly in the year to July 2000? Among the new data are encouraging numbers for the pig industry as spending on bacon, pork sausages and sliced ham has boomed. But in the frozen processed category the growth in beef ready meal sales, widely seen as sure to continue, seems to have stopped. The TNS figures a timely reminder of how the meat products market can prove disappointing. Adding value and convenience to carcase meat is supposedly the path to prosperity, but the reality is complex and often treacherous. As the table shows, there have been plenty of negative growth stories during the past few years, despite the overall shifts of demand and consumption away from the traditional cuts. {{M/E MEAT }}