Less but luxury the way forward for beef?

Cows’ carbon footprint and delivering quality rather than quantity among the talking points this winter.

9 December 2019
animal welfaredeliveryfarmingmeatproteinsustainability

The red meat scene is changing, with increased emphasis on health and ever-growing concern for the planet both now huge drivers across retail and foodservice.

Waitrose’ recent food and drink trends report noted that a third of UK consumers have reduced their general animal intake over the past year with red meat particularly vilified as long-standing links to the likes of heart disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes become talked about once more as plant-based alternatives go from strength to strength.

With healthy eating and wellness massively on the rise, consumers are considering their food options and diets perhaps more than ever before, with the overwhelming consensus being that they should cut down their red meat intake.

Meanwhile, provenance and sustainability are food industry-wide concerns, both in terms of how we’re treating the planet and in terms of consumer perception of eco-friendly practices, with recent forecasts predicting that red meat (and beef in particular) will become a more luxury item for consumers in the years to come.

Bye bye beef?

In November, Mintel released their far-reaching Global Consumer Trends report - a report that predicts food trends up to the year 2030. And one of their most explosive predictions is that, in the year 2025, we will start to see consumption of red meat moving from mainstream, to luxury, to taboo!

Now, while the idea of a nationwide boycott of the likes of beef steaks seems outlandish at present (current stats show that overall UK consumption of beef hasn’t actually changed much over the last year or so), the rise in flexitarian diets – spurred on by the plant-based boom – has started to have a noticeable impact on beef consumption in restaurants.  

Speaking with our colleagues at Big Hospitality, restaurateur Razak Helalat (founder of The Coal Shed and The Salt Room) said: “The word flexitarianism is cropping up more and more; people are choosing to eat less meat but great quality meat. Provenance, sustainability and animal welfare is more important than just eating more of it. It’s having a balanced diet and eating the food stuff, that’s what we’re finding.”

Robin Gill of Darby’s in London (“I think we’re going to eat less beef in the future. It will become more of a treat.”) and Martin Williams of Argentinian steak-house chain Gaucho Group (“We have seen fewer people eat meat at our restaurants”) both agreed that the beef scene is evolving.

This week, coincidentally, saw the launch of Gaucho’s new restaurant concept on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia, with new beef offerings and emphasis on carbon-neutrality top of the bill.

image credit: Kit Mitchell-Innes

Gaucho 2.0

A single cow produces between 70 and 120 kg of the greenhouse gas, methane, on average every year, with the beef industry responsible for 6% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.

With consumers recognising the sustainability issues with current practices and even making purchase decisions based upon them, serious efforts are being made from farm to table to reduce the cow’s carbon footprint, with Gaucho outlining plans this week to become the UK’s first carbon-neutral steak restaurant.

“[Gaucho in] Charlotte Street will be carbon neutral by the end of 2020, we need one year to make us completely carbon neutral,” said Mike Reid, culinary director of Rare Restaurants, which oversees both Gaucho and M Restaurants.

“We’re working with the University of Cambridge and the University of Buenos Aires to study our cattle and their methane output, so we can design a new style of feed which will reduce it.”

The main point of interest in terms of the food in the new Gaucho is the ‘beef bar’. This is an oyster bar-esque counter top, with space for four, that will provide "a more intimate experience with the chef". Running with the ‘less but luxury angle’, this bar will include tartare, carpaccio and other specials.

Duel-purpose daisy

Meanwhile, in the retail space, we’ve seen a spike in beef-focused delivery startups of late, both in Europe and the US, with the primary goal to provide consumers with small batch red meat options that tick both environmental and consumer health boxes.

Happy Meat, the Dutch-founded meat delivery company, launched in the UK only last month, with a mission statement to reduce beef’s global climate footprint “by up to 76%”.

To do that, they source their meat from uniquely reared, duel-purpose cows that product both milk and meat. Happy Meat offer 3kg boxes that contain five different meat products (all aged for three weeks) which can be traced back to a single British cow.

Boasting “beautiful” marbling due to the cows being free range (and being older than your normal industry cow), Happy Meat offer portioned, traceable, environmentally friendly beef, with American startup Blue Nest Beef (who also launched last month) similarly motivated across the pond.

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