The vital role of traceability in the UK’s animal protein industry 

Traceability, tracking, product integrity and quality assurance are a few of the terms that have entered and dominated the agri-food marketplace in recent years. High profile recalls of meat and dairy products have impacted global consumer concerns and attitudes, resulting in a demand for greater food safety and source-verified products on the retail market. 

Despite the rise in meat-free diets, vegetarianism and veganism, the UK’S protein industry remains strong. According to AHDB/YouGov’s consumer tracker, the vast majority of the population (81 per cent) regard themselves as meat-eaters. This tallies with Kantar Worldpanel’s figures that 91 per cent of British households purchase red meat. The UK protein market stood at $497.74 million in 2021 and is projected to register a CAGR of 4.14% to reach $609.78 million in 2026 (Mordor intelligence). 

Investors see the protein sector as a key prospect, attracting high levels of investment and fuelling the development of technology and further growth. Working out how best to fuel this growth – particularly in the face of increasing supply chain complexities – is becoming a top priority for the industry. 

Consumer confidence in protein’s complex supply chain

Market trend research has shown that animal protein is the fastest-growing segment by source, this has been attributed to the addition of claims such as organic, sustainable and grass-fed boosting sales - gelatin and collagen are the fastest growing sub-segments. As the protein industry continues to develop, with alternative protein producers finding their place at the table, the industry standards need to evolve - producers have a great opportunity to lead the way in terms of proving the provenance and traceability of their products. 

Provenance is becoming particularly important as a new generation of consumers make more ethical decisions on what they choose to eat, both retailers and suppliers will be compelled to comply with these consumer demands for market share. Traceability is an important factor in building trust in the safety and quality of the animal protein market both at home and overseas. 

The UK meat industry is among some of the countries with the highest standards of hygiene and welfare in the world and is responsible for supplying safe, wholesome and quality meat and meat products to people across the UK and further afield. The Food Standards Agency, BMPA and other meat industry participants have produced a number of detailed best-practice guidelines to help food operators understand their responsibilities, Including food hygiene regulations and the compulsory beef labelling scheme for England and Wales.

How important is traceability?

The ability to track products as accurately as possible is essential for establishing consumer trust, in terms of both safety and quality. Traceability allows microbial contamination and other situations to be pinpointed and brought under control quickly. It also allows companies to verify a variety of quality claims, such as organic and natural, and ones more specific to meat, like grass-fed, free-range and humanely raised.

Traceability is desirable in both directions in the supply chain: for example, processors have the ability to see backwards to suppliers and forward to trade customers and consumers. The idea is to assure each stakeholder that the previous one down the supply chain is delivering on their claims.

Quality and safety attributes all depend on information flowing across all parts of the supply chain – starting at the source. To get on the front foot with traceability, a solution that captures quality data through the entire processing supply chain is key. Greenlight Supplier Management enables full traceability across the supply chain and automatically raises any red flags that might compromise compliance.

Globally, Unilever uses Greenlight Supplier Management to track and monitor hundreds of fresh produce suppliers against key sustainability measures. “The Greenlight Assessments Reporting Tool allows us to spot trends in the industry which can be broken down by an individual supplier, country and product. As a result, we are able to see immediately what and where the issues are and what needs to be improved. This is achieved at the click of a mouse instead of having to review mounds of paper,” said Andrea Granier, Procurement Operation Manager, Sustainable Sourcing at Unilever.

The future of protein

Understanding the trends which shape consumer needs and shopping behaviour gives insight into product demand and highlights potential future opportunities to tailor products and messaging to better meet consumer needs and expectations. Provenance and traceability are in great demand in food generally, and meat/poultry is arguably where the demand is most intense.

In order to retain consumers’ trust in and demand for meat production, the industry will need to commit to working together throughout the supply chain, both to meet increasingly stringent safety regulations and address the provenance concerns of today’s consumers. 

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