Beef Market Outlook

Beef market outlook

  • 3% fall in prime slaughter expected in 2019, at 1.93 million head.
  • Beef and veal production forecast to be 880,000 tonnes, down 3.5%.
  • Lower exports forecast, down 5% at 139,000 tonnes (cwe).
  • Imports of 438,000 tonnes (cwe) expected, down 2%.


Total prime cattle slaughter for the quarter of 2019 was 497,400 head, up 1% year-on-year. This was driven by a rise in the number of heifers coming forward.

Beef and veal production totalled 233,600 tonnes, also up 1% from the same time last year.

What next?

  • Prime slaughter in 2019 is expected to total 1.93 million head, a 3% (-63,000 head) decline compared with 2018. BCMS data from January suggests a similar amount of older cattle (18-30 months) on the ground compared with a year ago, but significantly fewer young cattle. So, we expect prime slaughter to be similar in the first 6 months of 2019, before becoming a little shorter going into peak kill periods. Looking forward to 2020, prime slaughter is expected to stabilise although supplies could be tighter in the first half, due to lower 2018 registrations.
  • Cow slaughterings in 2019 are expected to ease a little in comparison with 2018. The last couple of years have recorded particularly high cow slaughter within the UK. A risk to this forecast could be another dry summer where forage availability forces producers to cull cows they would otherwise have kept. Cow slaughter is expected to stabilise in future going forward as the herd contraction slows.


During Dec-Feb, the UK imported 65,900 tonnes of fresh and frozen beef, 6% lower than the same period last year.

Approximately 79% of the UK’s fresh and frozen beef imports came from Ireland, which exported 2% more product to the UK between December-February.

Over the same period, the UK exported 29,200 tonnes of fresh and frozen beef.

Despite sending 5% less product to Ireland and 2% less product to the Netherlands, total exports were up 4% year-on-year.

What next?

  • We expect a slight reduction in both import and export volumes.
  • Irish production in 2019 is expected to reduce after higher live exports during 2017 and 2018 will likely limit supplies available for slaughter, and supplies available for export to the UK.
  • Polish exports to the UK could be higher than forecast if the country diverts product to the UK in the face of difficulties elsewhere.
  • UK export volumes are forecast to decline because of slightly lower production overall, particularly of cow beef.

Beef consumption trends

Chicken and fish continue to record strong growth rates within the protein market, highlighting the competitive landscape for red meat.

Primary beef volumes are 2.6% down year-on-year (Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 21 April 19). The heaviest reduction was within roasting joints and stewing cuts, while steak volumes sales are up 0.8% year-on-year.

There has been slight growth in pork volumes. Meanwhile, sales in the lamb category continue to prove challenging.

What next?

We expect a modest decline in primary red meat consumption in the short term, with ongoing pressure from the gradual shift from traditional meat and two veg options (such as roast dinners) towards dish-based cuisines.

There is further pressure from consumers aiming to moderate consumption, often referred to as flexitarians. Kantar Worldpanel defines flexitarians more tightly as consumers cutting down on red meat for health reasons, and sizes this group of people at 8% of the population.

The beef outlook might be mitigated, if the industry:

  • Continues to innovate products to meet consumer needs of convenience and health.
  • Inspires relevant beef dish-based cuisines.
  • Addresses health concerns by communicating the health benefits of beef.

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Beef & Lamb: At A Glance

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UK beef outlook: April 2019

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Gallery: Beef & lamb at a glance

Click on the thumbnails below for simple visual explanations as to how the beef and lamb markets have performed, according to the latest data. Here we look at GB and international prices, consumption, slaughterings and trade figures.