Meat producers talk profit & growth

At the Western Cape RPO’s annual meeting, meat producers discussed profitability, industry growth, and the marketing of lamb and mutton and the yellow fat on pasture-fed meat. Wouter Kriel reports.
Issue date : 27 June 2008

- Advertisement -

At the Western Cape Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO) annual meeting in Paarl, Producers argued retailers, medical and dietary misconceptions and the feedlot industry are keeping pasture fed beef and mutton from reaching their full market potential.

SA consumers are eating relatively little red meat – only 15,5kg/person annually – but this is expected to increase gradually to 20kg/person by 2016. “We’re in a better position than Argentina, but in a declining phase,” said Koos van der Ryst, the RPO vice-chairperson. Van der Ryst expressed concern that consumers are substituting white meat and vegetables for red meat.

He said this trend needs to be reversed, and marketing and health awareness campaigns for red meat were essential to the industry’s survival. Profitability: a major concern P roducer profitability was a major concern. “It’s unfair and concerning that while producer prices declined during the past year, consumers saw price increases on the supermarket shelves,” said John Dürr, chairperson of the Western Cape RPO. roducer prices for C2 beef decreased by 0,6%, 3,8% for A2 lamb and 15,3% for C2 mutton. But consumer prices increased by 12,7% for lamb chops, 14,8% for stewing beef and 14,6% for rump.

- Advertisement -

The only product that saw a producer price increase was A2 beef, which rose 10,4%. “During times of sharp producer price decreases, the retail industry never passes it on to consumers,” Dürr said. roduction costs have escalated and since many producers live in far-off locations, this impacted directly on their profitability, he continued. Too many producers were still passing over the nearest abattoir to get a 50c/kg price increase. Producers must become more productive to stay profitable, but some still rely on auctioneering agents to sell their stock, and have no say in the price. “We should be price makers, not price takers whenever we get the opportunity,” Dürr stressed.

The colour of fat A large percentage of Western Cape cattle are being raised on natural pastures, and as a result their fat is not as white as feedlot cattle’s. Current research, which is at an advanced stage, shows yellow fat is healthier than white fat, but retailers aren’t prepared to pay the same price for class yellow fat as for class white fat. “This should not be the case, since once the meat is vacuum-packed, there’s no discernable difference,” Dürr said. S ome delegates felt yellow fat would get better publicity if the Feedlot Association didn’t control the generic beef promotion programme, as they were biased towards white fat.

Fat UK sheep give SA lamb a bad name consumers believe lamb and mutton is too fatty, and therefore unhealthy, because doctors and dieticians rely on dietary values published by the Medical Research Institute. H owever, these are based on statistics from the UK, where lamb contains 25% fat, while local lamb contains only 10% fat, making it suitable for low-fat diets, Dr Hettie Schönfeldt of the Lamb and Mutton Marketing Forum told delegates. Because lamb is mostly pasture-fed, the animals walk more and eat less, resulting in lean meat. Pasture-fed sheep also have a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.

Lamb is the meat that’s the richest in conjugated linoleic acid, said Dr Schönfeldt. lthough medical research showed that animal fat is a healthy part of our diet, Schönfeldt explained to delegates that the worldwide trend is towards leaner meat. ome producers still believe that consumers want to see lots of fat and while this might be true for some individuals, the move is definitely away from fat towards lean-looking meat, she noted. Still scope for growth in red meat Van der told delegates that it had been necessary for the RPO to apply for a 0% VAT rate, because the chicken industry has done so.

“It would be the end of our industry if white meat received a 0% rate and we did not,” he explained, stressing that with a 0% rate, producers would still be able to claim their production costs. E merging farmers own 35% to 40% of the total livestock in SA, but calving percentages of only 35% are unacceptably low, said Van der Ryst, indicating poor management and the abuse of natural resources. Van der Ryst therefore urged the commercial industry to become much more involved with emerging farmers to improve the industry as a whole, but also to protect South Africa’s natural resources, without which no one would be able to make a living. For more on the Lamb and Mutton Marketing Forum’s progress, see pg 48.