MSA grading numbers push to record 2.68 million head

Jon Condon, 17/02/2014


Momentum in Meat Standards Australia grading activity shows little sign of abating, with a record 2.688 million head of cattle graded nationally under the program in calendar year 2013.

That’s 17.3 percent increase in numbers on the previous year, and represents a rise of more than one million head in just two years, from when a figure of 1.67 million head was recorded back in 2011.

What’s of key interest is where the continued growth is coming from.

It’s no longer being driven by ‘new’ MSA processor/retail stakeholders entering the program, but simply by increased volumes being pushed through the system by existing stakeholders.

For example, the huge 35pc jump grading numbers seen the previous year was heavily influenced by a single new arrival, Woolworths, which completed its first full year grading MSA for its supermarket program in 2012. That added another 8500 yearling steers and heifers each week from its retail operations, likely to have accounted for around two thirds of the rise between 2011 and 2012, or 425,000 additional MSA graded cattle.

For the most recent calendar year, however, there were just two new processor entrants: Hardwicks at Kyneton in Victoria, and Thomas Foods International’s Wallangarra sheep plant. The latest inclusions take the total number of accredited beef and sheepmeat MSA processors from 48 to 50.

It means virtually the entire 400,000 increase in cattle numbers graded last year has come via existing processors, retailers and others ramping-up their MSA supply chains.

Increasing demand from Woolworths for MSA carton meat sourced from other approved MSA-licensed processor suppliers, outside of its own direct supply channels was one factor, but there were lots of others. 

Within the retail segment, German-owned ALDI supermarket chain expanded its Highland Park MSA grassfed brand program, launched the previous year. The expanding Costco warehouse retail chain uses MSA specification for its Kirkland brand purchasing contracts, and plans to open its seventh and eighth stores in Brisbane and Adelaide this year. The independently-owned IGA supermarket network also continues to grow its market share, and expands its MSA beef programs, while retail butchers allied with MSA, through commercial brand support, continue to grow in number.

Coles continues to expand its MSA-backed ‘Coles Finest’ beef brand, launched in 2012. Although it does not ascribe the MSA identity to its everyday red meat products at retail level, the Coles supply chain grades all its cattle using MSA, and the figures are included in annual performance. 

It is well known that Teys Australia’s Naracoorte and Wagga plants have both lifted MSA throughput over the past 18 months, partly in response to Woolworths’ carton beef demand. A substantial proportion of the kill at both plants (Wagga 1300/day, and Naracoorte 800/day) is now MSA-graded.

To put the recent growth trend into perspective, it was only in the 2010 year that MSA grading reached the million head milestone.

History shows the program had a tough grind in its early years, recording only very modest growth from its launch back in 1998 due to lack of interest among larger processors, supermarkets and some independent butchers. The whole existence of MSA was under threat at one point, so disappointing was the industry uptake.

That started to change, however, when major processors – firstly Teys, and then JBS and Nippon – started processing for MSA in 2009, later joined by large retailers like Woolworths.

Returning to last year’s result, there was also solid growth seen in food service and smaller retail engagement.

Licensed supermarket and retail end-users last year reached 2624, a further 376 up on 2012.

State by state breakdown

All states recorded significant growth in MSA grading throughput last year, but Victoria was the headline act, in percentage growth terms.

After years of being an MSA ‘backwater’ in terms of uptake, Victoria has recorded another big surge in activity last year, grading 143,000 head – a 46pc rise on the previous year, and 180pc above the 2011 figure of just 51,000 head.

There has been strong processor engagement in Victoria over the past couple of years, for MSA-backed processor brands. Processors like Greenham (Greenham Natural), JBS Brooklyn (Southern Supreme, plus others), Swan Hill (Murray Valley), G&K O’Connor, Radfords and Hardwicks have all moved strongly into the program.

In sheer volume terms, however, Victoria still has a long way to go in terms of grading numbers, relative to nearby states like SA and NSW.

New South Wales also displayed strong growth in grading numbers last year, up 29pc, rising to 826,000 head. The result was influenced by Woolworths, through increased throughput at both Tamworth and Wagga’s supermarket kill, and increases in throughput at plants like Nippon’s Wingham plant, which continues to gain traction for its Manning Valley Naturally grassfed brand.

Others in NSW ramping up MSA kills include Primo’s Scone plant, now killing around 800 head a day, which has dramatically increased its MSA-backed Hunter Valley Quality Meats program.

South Australia also continued to perform strongly, driven by solid MSA performance through large processors like TFI at Murray Bridge, and Teys Australia at Naracoorte. South Australia’s MSA numbers were up 14pc for the 2013 year, to 225,000 head.

Queensland was again easily the highest throughput state for MSA grading last year, responsible for 1.174 million head, up 13pc on the previous year. The earlier system adoption by Woolworths was a component of that, as was greater volumes through Teys and JBS northern plants supplying MSA boxed cuts to Woolworths and other domestic and export customers.

Western Australia, already a deeply-committed adopter of MSA, managed to lift its throughput a further 6.4pc to 219,000 head last year.

Tasmania’s grading numbers were +13pc for the year at 124,000 head, with solid increases through plants like JBS Longford and HW Greenham Smithton.

  • More analysis and comment on the 2013 MSA grading performance tomorrow.




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