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Meat Shopper Insight – How to reinvigorate the beef category?

Danny Bowles, International Insights & Planning Specialist

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Considering a slow start to the year, where Irish beef exports to Britain and European markets were slow to gather momentum, there has been a steady upturn in the beef trade since mid April. Cattle prices in Ireland, UK, Europe, have increased steadily, reaching highpoints in July and August that have not been seen for eight or more years (Bord Bia, Beef Market Tracking, 2021). While the consumer may not be seeing this increase in prices in store, there appear to be fewer special offers on show, and in some cases, beef has been moved to less prominent aisles.

Against this backdrop, retail sales continue to perform strongly according to the latest Meat Shopper Insight report, incorporating data from July and August. Purchase incidence of beef is very similar across markets compared to the same period last year. However, we are seeing shoppers purchasing fewer cuts of beef when they do purchase beef, as we have seen a return to normal in grocery behaviour, as shoppers make more frequent journeys to the supermarket, but buying smaller baskets. 

Where we are seeing a significant challenge is in the consideration and engagement of beef. Shoppers who are considering buying beef, i.e. the universe of beef shoppers, is declining. Fewer are convinced by the beef offering in store, or are deciding not to buy beef before they reach the supermarket. Perceived cost against other proteins is impacting this. With the opening up of foodservice there is a bigger challenge in gaining “share of wallet” for beef compared to last year.

I felt like a change is also a key barrier to consideration and purchase, suggesting shoppers aren’t seeing much of interest in the beef offering. They’re seeing the usual cuts in the usual packaging, and they want to see something new and compelling. Engagement refers the exploration of options within the beef category, which is down sharply versus July-August 2020. Engagement is needed to get shoppers to trade up. Instead, we’re seeing more “auto-pilot” purchasing, shoppers are simply buying the same mince, burgers, etc. they always buy. In this environment, it’s difficult for Irish to stand out in markets like Germany, Italy and Belgium.

More excitement is needed in the category. Think to the end of summer last year, when there was a peak in beef purchase in a number of markets. We were emerging from the first lockdown, and there was a widespread interest in the beef category with more opportunity to entertain, get the BBQ out and have more special occasion meals at home, with foodservice still truncated. This interest appears to be lacking currently. Special offers can certainly help, but introducing new and highlighting premium cuts with strong meal inspiration, talking to the health credentials of grass-fed beef and sensory communications in-store, even in-store tastings, are all ways to reinvigorate. Ireland’s grass-fed message remains strong as a symbol of a more sustainable beef and a more natural beef, and is a premium-driver.

Both health and sustainability concerns have grown in the past few months, offering plenty of space for a compelling grass-fed message. Approximately 1 in 2 beef shoppers in Italy, UK, Belgium and Netherlands tell us they want to see more Irish steak options on the shelves of their supermarkets (Bord Bia, 2021)2. While there is also strong openness to more Irish burger and roasting joint options.

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Looking to other proteins, we are seeing an increase in consideration in meat substitutes, while not yet seeing an equivalent uptick in purchase. We have also seen in recent months growth in exploration and consideration of fish and lamb, further highlighting shoppers’ desire for something new in their protein repertoire, and the growing influence of health in their protein choice.

For More Information

You can view the headline European report here. There is plenty more market- and retailer-level insights available also. Bord Bia would be delighted to work with these findings to support your category understanding and management. 

Every month, Bord Bia interviews 375 grocery shoppers in key European markets: Ireland, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Sweden; in order to understand key dynamics around buying proteins. We have been collecting these insights since Autumn 2019, allowing us to reliably compare trends in consumption, purchase patterns and attitudes to the same period in the year previous.


  1. Bord Bia. 2021. Beef Market Tracking. https://www.bordbia.ie/farmers-growers/prices-markets/cattle-trade-prices/beef-market-tracking/
  2. Bord Bia. 2021. Meat Shopper Insights. https://www.bordbia.ie/globalassets/2021-uploads/2021_meatshopperinsightseuropetrends.pdf