News

Ten key take-homes from Anuga – the world’s largest red meat trade show + PICTURES

Jon Condon, 23/10/2023

Exhibitors and visitors mingle in the MLA precinct at the Anuga trade show this month

A bunch of Australian red meat supply chain stakeholders have just returned from the Anuga Food Trade Show – the world’s largest gathering of food industry suppliers and customers held in Cologne, Germany every two years.

Beef Central visited the previous Anuga event held in back 2019 (COVID intervened in 2021), but the sheer size of the five-day event is hard to comprehend unless it is seen first-hand.

More than 140,000 trade visitors from 200 countries and close to 8000 exhibitors went through the enormous convention site over five days this month.

We’ve since spoken to some of the personnel representing Australian red meat exporters at this year’s event, to pick up the current vibe coming out of the international beef and lamb trade.

Australian exporters with a presence on MLA’s site at this year’s Anuga included Ravensworth, Fletchers, NH Foods, JBS, Teys, WAMMCo, Midfield, Jacks Creek, Stella Foods, Swift, Haywill Holdings/Cedar Meats and Dabbagh Foods. Others, like TFI, attended via their distributors’ or local partners’ sites, while global players like JBS also had its own enormous ‘mother ship’ trade display, promoting the company’s global beef, pork, lamb and poultry brands.

Anuga not only attracts trade participants from across Europe, but also globally, with large contingents of customers this year out of Northern and Southern Asia, the Middle East, and North and South America.

Significantly, countries like Canada are lining up to become larger Australian customers over the next six months, given the impact of North America’s drought, one exhibitor told Beef Central. There was also a strong UK presence at the show, despite the fact that the UK left the EU last year.

This year, it was clear that the big corporates from across Europe, as well as country-specific displays were still investing heavily in making an Anuga ‘statement’ about their product, reflecting enormous confidence in the future of the region’s animal protein market.

Here’s some key take-home observations from Anuga 2023, from those in attendance:

 

“It was bloody busy”

While Australia is still negotiating its Free Trade Agreement with the European Union bloc (see today’s separate story), the Anuga trade event was as busy as ever for most Australian beef and sheepmeat exporters.

“What that tells me is that despite the financial hardships and economic slowdown being seen across the world, the red meat industry is still very much alive and kicking,” one contact said.

“Anuga is a five-day show, and normally, it tends to run out of puff by the afternoon on day-three. This year it was busy right through to closing-time on the last day,” he said.

“Australian product is well known, well understood and well liked across Europe,” another trade contact said. “But there’s no resting in our laurels – competing proteins and competing exporters are all going ahead in leaps and bounds. We have to be wary of the ‘Kodak moment’: we have to continue to build our brand – as individual processors, as a country, and as a protein.”

Visitors at one of Anuga’s arrival areas this month

“People wanted to talk about certainty”

If there was a central underlying theme among the crowd of potential red meat customers attending Anuga’s red meat precincts, it was around concerns connected with ‘certainty’ – whether that be certainty of availability, price or market access.

Some contacts questioned whether much-publicised labour access issues in Australia and elsewhere might jeopardise red meat supply next year.

“Global geo-political uncertainly, rising costs of living and other factors also contributed to that – but equally, many contacts are acutely aware of the coming changes in export supply – especially the big decline that’s looming out of regions like North America,” one contact said.

“Reports of more drought out of Australia also have some customers concerned about future supply assurance.”

“A lot of Asian customers attending Anuga were they to survey exactly ‘what else is out there,’ in terms of supply, given the forecast declines in beef production out of the US,” one contact said. “Some of these included large restaurant chains and supermarket chains out of Japan. Those sort of guys don’t go to events like Anuga unless they are weighing-up strategic options.”

JBS Australia’s booth within the MLA precinct at Anuga. JBS also manned its own separate, much larger corporate site.

Less interest in commodity meat

Customers generally were showing less interest in commodity-type meat this year, and more interest in better-quality brand program offerings. Some of that was linked to declines in US export supply.

There was a general feeling that global stockpiles of beef in cold storage are now starting to decline – in some locations, at least. A lot of commodity meat remains to be cleared in China, however.

“But other parts of the world are starting to clean-up quicker than they have been,” one contact said. “By the first quarter next year, we’d expect to be back towards more regular post-COVID international trading environment,” he said.

“Brand messages abound”

The industry’s continued shift away from commodity style beef to proprietary brands making very specific brand claims was more evident than ever.

This year’s Anuga meat halls were predominantly occupied by high-quality grain and grassfed beef drawn from sophisticated brand programs – not ‘old school’ generic product peddled around the world on price.

Some exporters said they fielded inquiries from large retail customers around opportunities to produce consumer-facing brands representing the retailers’ own company name – not the exporters’. This is clearly part of the strong global trend that’s occurring towards private labels at retail level.

The work done by the Australian industry means a rising tide is lifting all boats, creating opportunities for premium branded product which locks customers in and allows them to fight on attributes other than price.

In the UK, for example, some large supermarkets are sizing up opportunities in stocking a strong Australian beef or lamb brand – working against the theory that the UK consumer is not interested in buying imported beef at supermarket level.

Some sites displayed beef, like these tomahawk steaks, more like like a priceless holy relic, than something to be slapped on the BBQ

“Sustainability messages almost universal”

Brand attribute messaging around sustainability, animal welfare, carbon footprint and methane are becoming increasingly evident – although sustainability claims are now almost a ‘given’ in large parts of the EU market.

Every major animal protein display at Anuga – whether representing a nation, a protein type, or a corporate entity – had a strong sustainability message at its core, if more about a sense of passion for achieving higher environmental sustainability rather than any technical claims, Beef Central was told.

“Sustainability and animal welfare are rapidly becoming a customer access standard for meat protein in the EU – not a point of difference,” one trade contact observed.

“It’s moving from the fringes, to mainstream, and extends all the way from the product itself, to how it is packaged, transported and sold. It’s becoming cost-of-entry, rather than a value-add, in the European market at least. For that reason it did not really stand out as an issue in trade and exhibitor displays this year.”

Plastic trays and MAP-type skin packaging for meat protein is now largely being replaced by vacuum skin packaging in different forms, thousands of meat samples on display suggested.

One Australian exporter said he had had a number of conversations with large Asian    potential customers who asked ‘very specific’ questions about sustainability credentials, and ESG in particular. “Those chats are starting to happen at a commercial level,” he said. “It’s no longer a conversation you can opt out of.”

Plant-based protein competitors move into ‘consolidation mode”

While plant-based meat substitutes were a red-hot ‘on-trend’ topic at the last Anuga Cologne trade show back in 2019, their presence was much more subdued this time around.

After the initial growth surge three or four years ago, many have struggled with broader consumer uptake and profitability. ‘Consolidation’ was the carefully curated word used to describe the presence of many plant-based options displayed at this month’s Anuga show. Investor funds spent on extravagant displays and tastings at Anuga 2019 were largely absent this year, as commercial reality sets in.

Plant-based meat substitute samples on offer to Anuga delegates

Opportunities outside the EU itself

Some exhibitors at Anuga saw good trade opportunities outside the EU member-states themselves – including Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, the Baltic states and, of course the United Kingdom, which broke away from the EU last year, and with which Australia now has an active FTA.

“Value-added is struggling with labour issues”

Any move towards exporting greater quantities of Australian beef in retail-ready or value-added form, rather than simple chilled or frozen boxes of primals, is being challenged by labour access issues at home, or belief that the same job can be done far cheaper after arrival in the customer country, Beef Central was told.

“Price is still a factor”

Wholesale export beef prices have shifted sharply higher since the last Anuga trade event held in 2019, but it was not a front-of-mind topic among most delegates this year.

“Price is still a factor, but the market appreciates that Australia doesn’t play in the commodity space,” one Anuga exhibitor told Beef Central.

“Price can be approached in two ways: the gap between Australia and its global competitors, and the willingness and ability of the customer to pay the premium for Australian beef over alternatives.”

“That’s where cost of living pressures, inflation and other factors come in – especially in Europe, where everything (cost-wise) is through the roof. Having said that, there is a very large population across Europe with high disposable income, who are not currently being seriously impacted. The strength of the Aussie packer is to be able to align with supply chains that can reach those more affluent customers.”

“Don’t buy from me, Argentina”

Several contacts remarked on the ‘huge presence’ at Anuga this year from Argentina. Heavily backed by funding from the Argentine government, about 30 Argentine beef exporters were present. In contrast, Australian exporters picked up most, if not all of their Anuga attendance tab.

Part of the reason for the prominent Argentine display this year may be ‘damage control’, following the country’s earlier temporary ban on its own beef exports, designed to moderate local beef prices, leading up to a national election.

“Linga-longa”: Australia conceding shelf life advantage, as other exporters improve

Dialogue with competitors and trading partners suggests that Australia’s remarkable chilled shelf life advantage – a hard-won reputation gained over the past 30 years due to high phytosanitary performance in our export processing plants – may be under some challenge, as other exporters ‘lift their game.’

Australia’s world leading systems and processes, which added a lot, from a customer trust perspective, are now starting to be approached or even matched by some international competitors.

“In some cases, they’ve made great gains,” one trade contact conceded.

 

 

 

 

HAVE YOUR SAY

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.

Comments

  1. Mal Cock, 24/10/2023

    Competing is getting tougher out there in the big wide world of the red meat industry. It is essential that the processors and retailers have to look after their markets, but for sustainability and growth they need to look after their suppliers. Have a look at the dairy industry to see what can happen when the suppliers are squeezed near or beyond breaking point.

Get Beef Central's news headlines emailed to you -
FREE!