Asda has angered farmers after dropping its commitment to sourcing 100% British beef.

The retailer claims it was forced to change its policy following a sharp rise in British beef prices, with the GB all prime cattle price up by over 10% year on year in the week ending 1 January 2021, according to AHDB data.

“We know that it is important to our customers that the beef on our shelves has been produced to high welfare standards and is affordable,” said an Asda spokesman. “Unfortunately, the price of British beef has risen and whilst we continue to work hard to keep prices as low as possible for our customers, these increases are significant.”

However, National Beef Association CEO Neil Shand told the BBC he was “deeply disappointed” by the move. Farmers were being squeezed by a “never seen before” rise in input costs, he said, and needed the support of the major retailers more than ever.

It’s easy to see why British farmers are upset. Asda has traditionally lagged behind its main rivals when it came to British beef sourcing. Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons, M&S, Co-op and Waitrose have long sourced 100% British beef, while Tesco and Sainsbury’s have consistently had a higher percentage of British beef on their shelves than Asda in recent years, according to AHDB’s red meat country of origin audit.

So Asda’s pledge to source 100% British fresh beef last year, following its acquisition by the Issa brothers and TDR Capital, was considered a hard-earned victory for the British beef sector.

Now, just months after hitting that target last October, the retailer has already reneged on its promise.

But amid calls for a boycott of Asda on Twitter, it’s also important to put the move into context.

As a starting point, it’s worth noting that Asda isn’t suddenly going to start sourcing fresh beef from Australia, or even Poland. “All fresh beef in our premium Extra Special tier is and will remain 100% British and all of our fresh beef will be sourced from farms in the UK and Republic of Ireland,” said the spokesman. “This allows us to provide quality products which caters to all customer budgets.’’

That brings it in line with rival Tesco, which continues to source all of its fresh beef from a combination of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.


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It’s also important to recognise the progress Asda has made on British beef sourcing in recent years. Back in January 2021, just 50% of the fresh beef beef on the retailer’s shelves was British, according to AHDB’s audit. By the end of last year, it was sourcing 100% British fresh beef.

AHDB stopped tracking beef and lamb facings in UK supermarkets last year, so it’s difficult to say what percentage of beef on Asda’s shelves is currently British – but it’s probably still an improvement on recent years.

Asda also has its customer base to consider. It might have lost the mantle of the UK’s cheapest supermarket to the discounters a long time ago, but if it’s to maintain its commitment to a value proposition in the wake of wholesale price increases and with its reputation as a value retailer on the line it cannot afford not to consider the role of alternative sourcing in the mix. Introducing more flexibility to its sourcing policy allows it, in its own words, to “provide quality products which cater to all customer budgets”.

Indeed, one of the benefits of having ABP as a major supplier is its ability to switch easily between British and Irish beef when costs and supply fluctuate, allowing for price stability and preventing gaps on shelves. And Irish beef is currently, according to some estimates, around 20% cheaper than British.

At the end of the day, retailers are all being forced to make difficult decisions as they face mounting price pressure from suppliers. And while British farmers are understandably upset, this particular decision won’t have a negative impact on consumers, given Irish beef is produced to the same high standards as our own.

While it’s perhaps not surprising that Asda has stepped away from its 100% British beef commitment given surging domestic prices, however, it should still serve as a warning shot across the bow of our policymakers.

As NFU president Minette Batters tweeted last week: “This government has a role to play in ending the worsening retail price war. We need a radical rethink on what our trading environment should look like outside the EU.” 

Unless we have a comprehensive strategy for British food – which addresses the surging input costs faced by our farmers and the trade freedoms that our international trade policy is allowing elsewhere in the world – this could be the thin end of the wedge when it comes to a shift in supermarket sourcing policies.