Beef cattle: understanding the market

Knowing who your customers are and the product specifications they are looking for is essential to optimise your sale returns.
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The consumers

The ultimate customer is the person who eats the meat. Market research shows that consumers want tender, juicy and tasty meat that is not too fatty. Price and value for money are also important.

They are looking for a consistent product that gives them the same satisfying experience every time they buy, cook, and eat it. Consumers can take up to 12 weeks to buy a specific cut of meat again following a bad eating experience.

The retailer

Consumers buy their meat from a range of retail and food-service outlets. Supermarkets now sell approximately two thirds of the beef sold in England. Each outlet knows exactly the type of meat it requires to satisfy its customers’ needs, based on detailed knowledge of their previous buying behaviour. 

The processor

The producer’s direct customer is the cattle buyer, either at a livestock market, or at an abattoir if selling deadweight. Each buyer will have different specifications for the cattle they want in terms of weight, conformation, and fat class.

The prices offered by different buyers may vary for the same animals and will depend on the requirements of their customers further down the supply chain. Abattoirs are looking for animals that:

  • Are quick and easy to process
  • Arrive at the right time, on the right day
  • Are clean
  • Hit the correct carcase and fat specification
  • Hit the correct weight specification

Typical specifications

Identify markets for cattle that can be finished efficiently on your system before breeding or buying them in. This way, cattle can be bred and finished according to the market requirement.

Knowing your market will enable you to produce cattle that are the ideal weight and carcase classification to maximise returns.  

Find a few key target markets and what buyers in these sectors are looking for and do everything possible to meet these requirements as accurately and as consistently as possible. 

Main market

Target age (months)


Carcase weight (kg)






Heifers, Steers


R or better

4L (poss 4H)



Heifers, Steers


O+ or better

3 or 4L

Manufacturing Beef


Bulls, Heifers, Steers


-O or better

3 or leaner

Many abattoirs now require smaller and lighter carcases, driven mainly by changes in consumer preferences. The average number of people per household is decreasing and the requirement for meals that take less time to cook is increasing, so consumers are showing a preference towards smaller cuts.

Retailers also require carcases to be a particular size and weight for portion control so that cuts can be packaged and displayed consistently. 

Buyers may also list additional criteria such as farm assurance, breed, age, number of moves or minimum residency periods as part of the specification required. It is important to speak to your buyer regularly.

Useful links

Virtual beef programmes Beef markets Retail & consumer insight