Monthly beef trade increases but remains subdued on the year

Monday, 22 May 2023


According to the latest HMRC trade data, UK fresh and frozen beef imports came to 19,170 tonnes in March. Compared to February this was a month-on-month (MOM) increase of 19.0% (3,060 tonnes). Whilst all product categories saw MOM increases, increased imports of fresh and frozen boneless beef drove the overall trend, increasing by 1,820 tonnes (20.6%) and 1,080 tonnes (21.8%) respectively MOM.

Year-on-year (YOY), imports were down by 2,780 tonnes as both fresh and frozen imports eased on the year by 970 tonnes (-6.9%) and 1,820 tonnes (-22.7%) respectively. This was due to drops to imports from Ireland and the Netherlands, and most notably from Germany where shipped volumes fell by 69.2% (-1,240 tonnes) YOY.

Whilst imports of fresh beef continue to dominate total beef imports making up around two thirds of beef import volumes, frozen imports saw a much larger YOY drop overall. This was driven by declines to frozen boneless beef volumes, specifically from Ireland (-550 tonnes, -12.3%) and Germany (-880 tonnes, -63.4%).

This all contributed to year-to-date (YTD, Jan-Mar) imports easing by slightly over 5,000 tonnes YOY, at just 52,920 tonnes. With YTD imports down 8.7% YOY and down 9.5% compared to the 5-year average, this is higher than the expected trend of a 2% reduction in import volumes this year as demand eases.

  Graph showing UK beef imports


The UK exported 8,950 tonnes of fresh and frozen beef in March, up 190 tonnes MOM. This resulted from increasing exports to the EU, with greater volumes going to France (250 tonnes, 12.3%) and Belgium (100 tonnes, 55.6%). However, this was partially offset by exports to the Netherlands and Germany falling by 140 tonnes each.

Yet YOY export volumes saw the opposite trend as fresh exports saw a 25.9% (-2180 tonnes) drop off on the year, at just 6,240 tonnes in March, whilst frozen volumes decreased by 1,820 tonnes (-40.2%) YOY at 2,710 tonnes for the month. With total beef exports for the month down YOY, for the second month running, this brings YTD exports to just 26,190 tonnes, down compared to the same period in 2022 and the 5-year average, by 17.3% and 10.2% respectively.

For March specifically, with the EU remaining the key destination for the UK’s fresh beef exports, sizeable reductions in exports to Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Spain led to the reduction in fresh exports. When looking at fresh products specifically, significant declines across all categories, namely boneless beef (-660 tonnes), beef carcases (-1,180 tonnes) and bone-in beef (-340 tonnes), indicates demand for fresh beef on the continent is down, even when compared to the 5-year average. However, when looking at frozen beef exports, declining exports of boneless beef accounted for nearly all of the YOY decline.

Graph showing UK beef exports

Unlike for fresh beef, declining exports of frozen beef to the EU, specifically the Netherlands and Spain, only accounted for just under a third of the total export declines YOY, falling by just 630 tonnes in March. Declining exports to Asia drove the overall trend as Japan, China and the Philippines saw YOY declines of 260 tonnes, 440 tonnes and 150 tonnes respectively. This continues the trend of lower YOY exports to these nations, seen in the first two months of the year. Since global exports to these destinations have been up YOY recently, this may be due to increasing imports from other global producers. Meanwhile exports to Canada also fell by 230 tonnes YOY as it recorded no beef imports for the second month running.

Graph showing the market share of UK frozen beef exports

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