The conference unveiling the work of the Industry Forum for Red Meat was carefully timed to follow shortly after the publication of the report by the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, according to Peter Barr, chairman of the forum. Barr says: "I wanted Sir Don Curry's landmark report, and the government response, to see the light of day before we moved forward. "Don's report has given a ringing endorsement to our work, and we particularly welcome the proposal for the food chain centre. Our work will get them off to a flying start in the red meat chain." Barr adds: "We worked closely with the Commission, feeding broad findings and results of the forum's work into the commission as it progressed. So it should come as no surprise that our work dovetails so well with the Curry report recommendations." However, he points out that while Sir Don's remit was restricted to England, because of devolved government controlling agriculture in the rest of the country, the forum covered the whole of Great Britain. "The problems we face are nationwide, and the industry forum includes experts from England, Scotland and Wales." The forum ­ a partnership between the Meat & Livestock Commission, Defra, IGD, and the NFU ­ was set up in June last year, but was not just a reaction to the problems at that time caused by FMD. It was intended to tackle longer term problems ­ such as low profitability, distrust within the supply chain and growing penetration of imports ­ and to foster a world class red meat industry in the UK. One of the major problems identified by Barr is the disjointed nature of the industry. He says: "I've spent a lot of time over the last year looking for the supply chain. "But quite frankly I've come to the conclusion that for most part it doesn't exist. It's a myth that farmers talk to processors and retailers talk to farmers ­ although there are some notable exceptions." Barr says the members of the forum were determined it should not just end up as a talking shop, so one of its priorities has been identifying best practice where it exists, and setting up pilot projects. The forum set up panels to study three areas ­ the consumer, the supply chain and benchmarking. Barr says of the supply chain: "We must ensure best practice. That means each player should be getting a decent return, rather than one making a profit at the cost of another." One example of best practice highlighted in a presentation at the conference is the relationship between Waitrose, Dalehead Foods and the farmers who supply the pork. Richard Sadler, Waitrose had of buying for meat, poultry, fish and dairy foods, explains: "Our relationship with Dalehead has evolved over a period of about 20 years. All our relationships are based on trust and face-to-face dealing." There are 35 farmers producing pork exclusively to Waitrose specifications and the price they are paid is linked to the cost of production, wholesale prices and the price of retail cuts. Sadler says: "This helps the farmers by ensuring they get a realistic price and by ironing out the peaks and troughs in prices, but it also allows Waitrose to be relatively competitive." There are also annual conferences for producers and quarterly meetings, and league tables are produced to help share best practice between producers. Sadler says the contract with farmers is renewable annually, although it is based mostly on trust: "We've got more people wanting to join than to leave, so we must be doing something right." Other recommendations by the supply chain panel are the introduction of Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) techniques down existing major retail and food service red meat supply chains so suppliers are more in touch with consumer demand, and for value chain analysis. MLC corporate strategy director Bob Bansback says: "ECR and value chain analysis lie very much at the heart of what the Curry report suggested for the food chain centre, and we're hoping to work with that initiative to develop them." The supply chain group also suggests there should be master classes for the processing sector, a technique which has transformed the automotive industry. It also proposes that more training in modern management techniques should be provided for the next generation of managers, and that the feasibility of setting up a red meat centre of excellence should be investigated. Using three years' data from the Taylor Nelson Sofres Family Food panel, the group investigating consumer trends divided households into three categories depending on their red meat consumption: meat reducers; meat increasers; and stable. They found that families increasing red meat consumption tended to be more "modern", where both parents go out to work, and they put importance on healthy and convenient eating. Those whose consumption was falling tended to be retired and more traditional consumers who were more price conscious. Peter Whitehead, a DEFRA officer seconded to IGD, who has been analysing the data said: "The strength of the data is it is recording what they do, not what they say they do, and it links it with attitudinal data. The results have surprised a lot of us and it will make our ability to market the product much more precise." Whitehead said the results also showed meat has massive penetration, with 96% of consumers eating meat (including white meat). He said although more people said they were vegetarians, the evidence of what people were eating showed no increase in vegetarianism. Recommendations from the benchmarking panel are mostly aimed at farmers and processors. It proposes the roll-out of a metrics system for livestock producers so they can compare their performance with others, and to introduce the Probe benchmarking technique,which has been developed by the London Business School and IBM and used successfully in other businesses. Barr says the recommendations in the report have been costed out at £5m in total over a three-year period, including the costs of members taking part in the pilot schemes. Already an application for £1.5m in grants has been made to the Department of Trade & Industry. Barr sees the conference as the end of the phase one of the forum's work. Phase two will continue to be spearheaded by the original partners, who will set up a small management team to implement the forum's initiatives. Barr says: "I see the forum as the caretaker driving the recommendations forward, along with partners in the industry. Then when the time is right, we'll hand over responsibility to the appropriate organisations." Barr says: "We've had a tremendous buy-in to our work from across the industry, including all the major retailers. We now have a clear understanding of the supply chain and this will dispel some of the distrust. Now is very much the action phase. "We've picked up many of the points from the Curry report and we are ready to deliver. People are very willing to listen. There is an opportunity because people realise there has got to be a change." n {{NEWS }}