Superficially impressive figures for beef, lamb, burgers and ready meals from TNS Described by MLC analysts as showing "buoyant sales of fresh and frozen beef and lamb", latest household purchase and expenditure data from market researcher Taylor Nelson Sofres could equally be regarded as emphasising the contradictory perceptions now common in the retail and wholesale meat trades. Talk to importers of pork and of some beef, or to second tier cattle and sheep slaughterers, and the impression given is of a very tough market. Product moves, but demand is reported patchy. Yet the TNS figures are superficially impressive, especially for carcase beef and lamb, and for burgers and ready meals. Heavy promotion of beef is reflected in the differential between year on year volume growth (nearly 9% in the latest four week period) and expenditure gain (only 6.4%), but the lamb quantity and spend are almost at parity while the much reduced pork tonnage generates nearly as much cash as 12 months ago. As usual, the numbers change complexion when looked at in the context of last year's market. The four weeks to September 19, 1999 saw beef volume and value 4% weaker than 12 months previously, with awful performances by roasts and stewing cuts. Lamb volume had improved, but the penalty was heavy discounting. As for pork, shoppers were buying significantly less than in 1998 and paying less for it. These new figures are therefore a recovery story just in part, and on a year to date basis the net gain by beef may have been more than offset by losses on carcase lamb and pork. Even within the added value market segments, the tale is not all about clamorous demand. Price erosion is obvious in the beef ready meal niche. {{MEAT }}