Declining EU beef market

A downturn in supply availability in 2008 and again in 2012 and 2013, plus the economic crisis in the EU has resulted in declining per capita beef and veal consumption in recent years.

The reduced supply has also contributed to increased retail prices and a switch to poultry meat.

Beef and veal had performed relatively well during much of the 2000s, once demand had returned to normal after the BSE crisis on the continent at the end of 2000. Steady growth in GDP and consumer spending contributed to this development. Data published by the European Commission for the EU-28 indicates that per capita consumption of beef and veal amounted to 10.6 kg retail weight in 2014. This represents a reduction of 1 kg, compared with 2009, and was also less than the average figure of 12 kg per annum in the 2004 to 2007 period.

However, during the economic downturn lower value cuts have generally performed well, led by ground beef (mince, burgers and steak hatchée) but the market for prime cuts (the “noble cuts) has been under pressure. This applies not only to the retail market, but also the food service sector where upmarket restaurants have struggled relative to fast food outlets. Consequently, the beef industry throughout the EU has struggled with this demand imbalance between forequarter and hindquarter cuts.

EU beef and veal consumption

Beef and veal now has a market share of less than 16 per cent of the total EU meat market, compared with over 18 per cent in the mid-2000s. In the main it has lost out to poultry meat. Over the same period poultry meat increased its market share from 29 per cent to 33 per cent, per capita consumption in retail weight is 22 kg, now almost double that of beef and veal.

There are inevitably differences in total meat consumption across member states. Variations though by type of meat, including for beef, can be even greater, reflecting differences in preferences and tastes in each country. Both in France and Italy there has been a strong loyalty and tradition of consuming beef, although in recent years per capita beef and veal consumption has declined under the difficult economic pressures. The beef and veal market in both countries is also less important than that of pig meat, but not poultry meat. There is also obviously a strong tradition of consuming beef in the UK, but per capita consumption is still lower than that for pig meat. Also in line with the situation in the EU as a whole, the beef and veal market is now little more than half that of poultry meat.

Per capita beef consumption key EU markets

On the German market there is less loyalty towards beef, given strong consumer preference for pig meat, plus the growing importance of poultry meat. Nevertheless, consumption of beef and veal has held up well from 2009 onwards in comparison with the EU as a whole, helped by the better economic situation during much of the period. In the new member states of East Europe, beef is of only minor importance. For example in Poland, which is the sixth largest consumer market in terms of population, per capita consumption is only one kg. Beef is mainly used in sausages, while pig meat and, increasingly, poultry meat dominates the meat market.

It is clear that future beef demand in the EU will continue to partly depend upon the economic outlook, which at least during the course of 2015 is starting to look more positive than it has for some time. Also, available supplies are now moving up again. However, beef will continue to suffer from being higher in price than its protein alternatives, and the on-going strong competition from the poultry meat sector. Niche beef markets though should continue to develop, putting UK prime beef in a strong position on export markets. AHDB Beef & Lamb is making strenuous efforts to exploit this potential. Clearly though the EU ground beef market will also remain critical partly since it has become even more dominant during the economic downturn.