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Soaring demand for mince piles pressure on beef prices

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Over 60pc of all beef sold by mainstream retailers - a critical market for Irish farmers - was mince (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Over 60pc of all beef sold by mainstream retailers - a critical market for Irish farmers - was mince (Jonathan Brady/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Over 60pc of all beef sold by mainstream retailers - a critical market for Irish farmers - was mince (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A surge in demand for mince from retailers in Ireland and Britain is adding to the downward pressure on cattle and lamb prices.

At the height of the coronavirus panic buying last month, there was a 45pc increase in the amount of beef mince sold by UK retailers.

Over 60pc of all beef sold by mainstream retailers - a critical market for Irish farmers - was mince and other low-price cuts.

"On the surface, this may seem like an unexpected bonus for meat processors, but a closer look at the numbers tells a different story," said Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association.

"The problem is that retailers have been ordering a significant amount more of mince and other low-value cuts, instead of their usual mix of mince plus other cuts such as steaks and roasts.

"In addition, the lockdown has meant that family gatherings for Easter and Ramadan are having to be cancelled so people aren't buying more expensive cuts."

In a normal market, a processor would only want to turn about 40pc of a carcass into mince, added Allen.

"The reason for this is that every increase in the amount that has to be put into mince devalues the whole carcass substantially because mince is typically sold by processors at zero or near-zero profit margin," he said.

"We are getting reports that cold stores are almost full to capacity with more expensive cuts of meat, for which there is currently no market. Most retailers are still avoiding ordering other cuts in favour of buying more mince."

Butchers here say there has been a marked shift by consumers to chicken and mince, as well as other value options such as diced beef and sausage.

John Shannon, a butcher from Kiltimagh, Co Mayo, said the changes were being driven by cost-conscious consumers.

With most students home from college, and many more people off work or working from home, families had more people to feed each day and were increasingly opting for cheaper meat cuts, he explained.

Meanwhile, the closure of restaurants and other service trade outlets across Europe has led to a collapse in demand for hind-quarter beef cuts such as strip loin, fillet and rump, Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland pointed out.

While Bord Bia estimates that retail beef sales increased by 20-30pc, 50pc of the volume of beef coming from each carcase is generally sold into the manufacturing and food-service channels.

"At present, these outlets are heavily impacted in most markets, as both burger production for quick-service chains and sales of beef, particularly steak cuts, into restaurants and hotels have been effectively suspended," a Bord Bia market review said.

Mr Healy said that while beef processors could freeze and hold premium cuts in cold stores, there was an obvious cost to this, and factories needed to see "when there was a turn in the road coming".

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