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COVID-19: impacts on markets

17 April 2020

The unprecedented and unpredictable nature of COVID-19 makes it very difficult to report on the complete range of impacts to Australian red meat and livestock industry in an accurate and timely manner. It is clear that even though China appears to be emerging from COVID-19 shutdown, the crisis is escalating across the rest of the world and will continue to disrupt consumption of Australian red meat domestically and around the globe. 

Here’s a summary of some consistent impacts seen in global markets:

Red meat supply and logistics (processing, sea freight and air freight)

Major disruptions, including flight cancellations restricting air-freight capacity, refrigerated containers being held at ports and not returned to global circulation, labour shortages and slow customs clearance. More recently, US beef supply chains have started being impacted by COVID-19 with some plant closures and potential concern for bottlenecking in ports, similar to those experienced in China in February.

The Australian Government has launched the International Freight Assistance Mechanism to re-establish air freight to high-end protein markets.

Consumer demand

Consumer uncertainty has been a catalyst for changes in purchasing behaviour and in some cases attitudes towards red meat. MLA recently commissioned consumer research in China which confirms that consumers in a crisis gravitate to brands they trust. Australian beef and lamb have gained that trust over decades of combined industry efforts.

Foodservice sales

There has been a significant drop in sales at foodservice, the extent depends on restrictions imposed by countries. Typically, higher value loin cuts make their way into foodservice, balancing out the overall value of the carcase for Australian processors. With loin sales down, it will remain a constant challenge for the industry to move the entire carcase while minimising the impact to overall value of the carcase.

Retail sales

As foodservice channels slow, demand for meat through retail, particularly online, has lifted significantly, as more consumers are forced to eat more meals at home. Demand has been strongest for staple items such as mince and sausage, which were key contributors to recent spikes in fresh meat sales in the domestic market.

Demand for livestock exports

Demand for livestock is increasing due to the reduction in air transit limiting access to chilled/frozen meat.

Australian red meat exports

Red meat exports in March began to reflect the impact of COVID-19 with some shifts in markets and product flows. Australian beef exports in March totalled 93,954 tonnes swt, 8% lower than a year earlier while lamb exports fell 5% in March year-on-year, reaching 25,097 tonnes.

Australian livestock markets

Online livestock sales have risen, saleyards have adjusted to video streaming sales and implemented strict entry protocols to conform with social distancing requirements.

The National Livestock Reporting Service also adjusted market reporting services to support COVID-19 containment efforts. A series of CV-19 indicators have been devised to keep stakeholders best informed in the current environment. Read the latest market news here.

Impacts on MLA’s marketing activities

MLA’s marketing operations have been curtailed in all markets, particularly Asia, due to the advice against gatherings of people and the disruption to major channels, such as foodservice.

Despite the global disruptions caused by COVID-19, MLA is committed to delivering marketing communications via digital platforms – see how MLA’s Simply Spring campaign in the US has been modified to leverage digital platforms. Once the COVID-19 crisis begins to clear, MLA will immediately look to activate marketing programs.

MLA is working closely with the Australian Olympic Committee and Paralympics Australia regarding the Australian Beef partnerships to align them with the new Games period. MLA intends to retain its Olympian and Paralympian Australian Beef Ambassadors and will continue to use these Ambassadors across 2020 and 2021 activities.