Sourcing locally produced beef can contribute to the development of rural economies.
11th October 2010
Category: Health Fact Sheets
Government policy is designed to encourage public sector bodies to procure their food in a manner that promotes sustainable development and encourages more small local businesses to compete to supply them with food. Creativity in defining the procurement need may be one of the strongest lines of opportunity for realising sustainable development objectives, whilst taking into consideration value for money, integrity and compliance with EU procurement law.
If the objective is to provide healthy meals for schoolchildren, for example, there may be several ways in which this can be done. For example, through setting up separate supply and delivery contracts, linked to initiatives that support opportunities for local trading such as ‘meet the buyer’ events, and more proactive approaches to inviting interest by local producers.
Supply chains, for example, the flow of goods from field to plate, and the contractual arrangements, which support this, can vary in their complexity. At its simplest, the primary contractual relationship is between the buyer and the supply contractor. Behind this however, the buyer will have ‘internal clients’ including the catering manager, kitchen staff, and financial and political drivers, while on the supply side, the contractor will have any number of relationships with downstream suppliers, producers and distributors.
Larger suppliers are being encouraged through pre-contract selection procedures to make better use of smaller, more local producers. Economies of scale and simplicity for the buyer have meant that one-stop foodservice companies are now dominating the market. As buying consortia become more common, and efficiencies and value for money more important, this trend may increase further. In parallel, competition from world markets has pushed commodity prices down. The result is a steady erosion of the business viability of smaller suppliers and processors.
For beef producers, the public sector is not well understood as a potential marketplace, and often perceived as a low margin opportunity with poor contractual terms. In many cases, the only route to the public sector is to be a downstream supplier through the big food service companies.
At universities in the south of England, a group called ‘Pelican’ manages their catering contracts. This allows universities to select smaller suppliers for each university, whilst not having the burden of managing the increased number of contracts. Sussex University purchase meat from a local supplier, although the supplier sources mostly from imports. The catering manager there could, for example, encourage the local supplier to consider providing beef from local grass-fed herds.
For many smaller producers, one of the key limiting factors is distribution. Many larger wholesalers or distributors add over 35% to producer’s costs making it unviable for them to supply produce. A number of local distribution schemes have established in the last few years to address this.
In the NHS, the central purchasing unit, Purchasing and Supply Agency (PASA), sets up framework agreements with suppliers nationally, defining the specification and price, which individual Trusts can opt to use as their suppliers. Alternatively Trusts can opt to seek out their own suppliers, through the nominated supplier route or on a non-contractual as-needed basis.
The nominated supplier arrangement provides a good opportunity for local producers and processors to get their product to market without having to carry the costs of running their own distribution network. Consideration should be given to the use of lots during the tendering process, where this is consistent with value for money, to encourage smaller suppliers to bid. To monitor the origin on beef purchased, buyers are advised to specify the following details on the delivery note and/or invoice. The abattoir plant number, the slaughter date of the animal and the batch number.
Product Assurance Schemes ensure that producers and processors adhere to documented and inspected standards covering food safety and traceability, animal welfare and environmental protection. Public sector buyers can use such criteria to help determine their own requirements in those individual areas.
Beef purchasing concepts
Individually, quick-frozen (IQF) products are convenient. The cook can open a box, tip out the required amount of sausages, minced or diced beef, and then put the rest back in the freezer.
For products like minced or diced beef, caterers should consider buying packs of 500g or 1kg, where the whole bag has been frozen. When comparing prices between, for example, a local and a national provider, it’s important to ensure that you are comparing similar specifications.
This applies in particular to the beef content of sausages and the fat content of minced or diced beef. For example, one school found that the minced meat it was buying contained 30% fat. By switching to another supplier whose mince contained only 10% fat, the school could afford to pay 20% more per kg. Butchers are often able to adjust the specification of, for example, sausages to meet the requirements of an important customer.
Another example is where one butcher calls a joint of beef, “topside” whereas another might refer to that joint as “top rump”, which is cheaper. To ensure that different quotes are for the same cut, specifications should specify the numbered cuts identified in the Meat Buyer’s Guide.
One of the issues with the above permutations is carcass balance. For example, if a farmer chooses to retail his/her own beef, he/she need to know that they can sell both the expensive cuts (for example as steaks or roasting joints) and the cheaper cuts (as mince, burgers and sausages). If a retail butcher buys a whole animal they take on the same problem. By choosing to buy primals instead, the butcher leaves the abattoir with the problem of selling the less popular parts of the animal.
Sometimes schools and other caterers can help a small retail butcher or a farmer butcher by buying the cheaper cuts of beef. These “upmarket” butchers tend to find it easier to sell the better cuts, and to be looking for a market for the forequarter meat.
In East Sussex a local Tertiary College and hotel worked together so that a local organic beef farm could supply them both. One takes the front quarters (cheap cuts) and the hotel takes the hindquarters. They obviously have to liase and need to agree to have the beef at the same time. The farmer needs to provide details of when the animals will be ready so both sets of chefs can plan their menus.
Beef and lamb are arguably attractive in terms of sustainability, and their grazing is responsible for some of the UK’s most attractive landscapes. In the UK, most beef and lamb is raised outdoors for at least most of the year, often on land that has no alternative agricultural use.
Since BSE was first identified, all cattle are identified and registered in accordance with European Union regulations, ensuring high levels of identification, traceability and a new set of EU beef labelling regulations were developed. These regulations give more information than ever before, about the origin of the beef purchased and greater reassurance on quality and food safety. It is now compulsory for all beef and veal products covered by the regulations to carry a traceability code and details of its country of origin.
UK beef is produced to some of the highest welfare standards in the world. No growth-promoting hormones are fed to beef cattle in the UK and any antibiotics are administered only under veterinary direction. Britain’s cattle passport system means that each animal can be uniquely traced to its dam (mother) and place of birth. UK beef travels short distances from farm to shop so regardless of how carbon footprints are calculated, it has a lower carbon footprint. Choosing UK beef means supporting British farmers whose work helps to keep the British countryside the way we want it to look.
The National Beef Association is a sector specific charitable organisation working to promote the beneficial attributes of UK produced beef to public procurement contractors, consumers and the wider community.