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What to expect in 2021

22 February 2021

MLA’s General Manager – International Markets, Andrew Cox, recently sat down with the On the ground podcast to discuss what he sees as the opportunities and challenges for Australian red meat in 2021.

We’re hearing about challenging conditions from a supply side here in Australia, but what can we expect from the demand side internationally this year?

From a demand perspective in our international markets, a fitting word to describe the situation at current is ‘challenging’. There was a lot of optimisim at the end of last year with vaccine roll-outs beginning that we’d see a turnaround in demand. However, for now the situation is worsening in many markets, meaning their recoveries in areas such as tourism, business, travel events and hospitality – all key areas for red meat consumption – haven’t materialised, putting a trade recovery on hold.  

Last year, we saw our big markets like Japan and Korea come to the fore in spite of the challenges. Is this something we can expect to continue this year?

There is optimism that in markets where Australian beef and sheepmeat have established robust long-term relationships, like Japan and Korea, our strong trade relationships will continue.

Our developing markets are also highly promising, and rightly so, because of the strong opportunities these represent to drive future growth.

It’s also been encouraging to look at data from some of our key markets that indicate these economies, including those of the US, China and Japan, have all started to recover, something that should positively impact Australian red meat this year.

Stability is what drives our international markets, and having destinations we can rely on gives us a good level of resistance to shocks, such as the one coronavirus produced last year.

On the competitive front, Australia isn’t going to offer the cheapest protein globally in 2021, so how do we drive preference for our product?

There’s always the short-term and the long-term when it comes to this question, and from a marketing perspective we’re trying to take the long-term view. We have incredibly strong fundamentals for both Australian beef and lamb that we can lean on, such as consumer trust and strong perceptions around quality and provenance.  

Add to this the fact that global consumption of beef and sheepmeat is set to continue growing, with forecast economic and population growth in many markets - presenting great opportunities for us to drive preference for Australian red meat this year and beyond.

Obviously there were challenges with foodservice last year, but retail saw a strong uptick. Will we place more focus on retail in 2021 as a result?

We have activities in all sectors where Australian beef, sheepmeat and goatmeat are sold. Whether this is through catering, high-end foodservice, e-commerce or retail, MLA has a presence in these spaces on behalf of industry.

Over the last 12 months, it’s been easier to conduct promotional activities with retailers, and there’s been growth in e-commerce, but foodservice and hospitality and events will recover and we’re likely to see a upsurge in demand for promotional partnerships, so we would never preference one over the other.

We’re in a privileged position to have offices all over the globe. How will MLA utilise these to assist brand owners this year?

It’s been a unique challenge as of late, because our people on the ground in markets around the globe are accustomed to meeting regularly with Australian brand owners, both in Australia or in-market for trade shows etcetera. With none of these able to happen over the past year, we’ve had to reshape things and schedule more one-on-one meetings to make sure we are communicating.

We’ve also needed to look at the opportunities exporters see for trade, and align our promotional activities with these – hence the development of virtual trade shows, online events and coordinated meetings to offer support. 

MLA also has formal insights available online and co-funding opportunities available, so I’d encourage any exporters interested visit the MLA website or get in touch with us via True Aussie Beef & Lamb.  

Any final remarks on the year ahead?

We hadn’t experienced anything like what we did in 2020 before, and there’s little doubt in my mind that this year will also be filled with unique circumstances and challenges. If anything though, last year proved how resilient our sector is, and this should provide confidence that we can continue to succeed, regardless of what the world decides to throw at us this year.