UK market accounted for 47% of Irish beef exports in 2023

The UK market accounted for 47% of Irish beef exports in value terms last year, up from 44% in 2022.

We take a look at the performance of Irish beef in Britain and Bord Bia’s efforts to support the market. 

The UK was the biggest and most valuable market for Irish beef exports in 2023, taking some 233,506t of product, equating to almost half of all Irish beef exports last year.

Export data for the first two months of 2024 have indicated a firm start to the year with 39,349t exported to the market- a 5% increase from year earlier levels.

Beef exports 

There has been a similar increase recorded in the value of beef exports to the UK in the early months of the year, up by 6% to €212 million.

The UK is a net importer of beef, and Ireland is its largest supplier, accounting for over 70% of the UK’s beef imports. Poland, Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain account for the bulk of the remainder of imports from the EU.

Just over 7,000t of beef were imported into the UK from South America (primarily Brazil and Uruguay) while 1,905t were imported from Australia and just over 1,800t from New Zealand.

Total non-EU beef imports were just over 12,000 last year, which represents 5% of total UK beef imports.

UK beef retail overview

Irish beef commands a strong position across the UK. Irish beef is the only imported beef that is available continually in the mainstream UK grocery sector and is stocked by major retailers such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in organic Irish beef in the UK market with premium online retail, Ocado, listing the product year-round.

Strong Irish beef retail sales

According to Kantar retail data, in the 52 weeks to April 14, 2024, the volume of Irish beef sold into the UK retail channel rose by 16% (when compared to April 2023).

At the same time, the quantity of all beef sold into UK retail decreased by 1.1%, demonstrating that despite falling UK beef consumption, Irish beef still commands a strong position in the market.

In terms of cut popularity, mince beef is the most popular beef product in the UK with sales of £978.6 million in the 52-week period to April 14 this year.

This was down marginally (0.5%) on the previous year. Sales of steaks in UK retail rose by 2.2%, while stewing beef continues to suffer with the most extreme reduction of 12.7% in sales to £389.6 million (over a 52-week period).

This is a long-term trend which has seen mince and steak categories growing at the expense of roasting joints and stewing beef.

Much of this is driven by shoppers looking for quick midweek meals with mince and frying steaks seen as a quicker, convenient choice.

UK-Irish relations

The UK market has a longstanding and robust relationship with Irish beef, a connection that is underpinned by several key factors.

The similarity in beef production systems between Ireland and Britain, both favouring suckler cows and steer beef over young bulls, has fostered a sense of familiarity.

In recent times, Irish beef and sheep processing companies have established themselves as leading processors in Britain.

Quality Assurance is an indispensable requirement for all premium export markets with the UK spearheading the demand for Quality Assurance across all market segments.

The Bord Bia Sustainable Beef and Lamb Scheme enjoys widespread recognition and acceptance by all UK beef customers as being on par with various UK schemes.

UK consumer tracking

The UK shopper places a very high level of trust in Ireland as a source of food. In the most recent study undertaken by Red Tractor on consumer trust, Ireland topped the poll as the most trusted country for food among respondents.

74% of respondents said they trust food from Ireland, followed by the UK at 73%.

The acceptance of Irish beef in the UK is further underlined by research by Bord Bia’s Thinking House, which undertakes ongoing consumer studies in the UK.

This includes an Irish beef ‘brand health check’ and a meat shopper report every three months.

This research highlights that four in five UK shoppers are familiar with Irish beef and two in three shoppers would consider purchasing beef of Irish origin in the future.