In the UK, the market doesn’t want finished beef animals that are too large, but in Argentina, it’s almost the complete opposite.
The Argentine consumer typically has an appetite for smaller heifers of under 350kg liveweight. The reason is their belief these animals are more tender. However, with the country developing its export market – which demands larger animals, generally over 450kg- the industry is trying to close the gap between the two market streams and encourage consumers to select meat from bigger carcasses in order to boost production efficiencies.
Changing Argentine culture is a difficult one. You only need to look along the cattle pens at Linears cattle market (below) on the edge of Buenos Aires to see the typical small framed cattle that form the basis of the country’s diet.
With an annual consumption of 60kg of fresh beef a head (the highest consumption per capita in the world – although I believe there’s some debate on that with Uraguay), the Argentine carnivore likes their meat and they know what they want.
Victor Sisinni (below), auctioneer for Da-ness srl – one of 55 auction houses operating in Linears market, adds: “Argentine consumers are spoilt to eat smaller, younger animals. But there is a concerted effort among farmers and industry institutions to get consumers to eat bigger animals and maybe not produce as many cattle but more kilos of beef.”
The market handles around 10,000 head a day – although the day I went was after the Easter break so numbers were down to around 4,000. The market is purely for finished beef animals, with stock going direct to slaughter after being purchased. 85% would be for domestic consumption, with the rest for non-EU exports. Argentine beef isn’t hung, so beef from today’s market at Linears, could be on the plates of Buenos Aires consumers tomorrow.
Victor says steers generally average 400kg live weight and heifers 330-340kg. Cattle are split into different classes at sale: 300-350kg – male or female ‘calves’; 350-430kg – small steers or small heifers; and 430kg+ steers and bulls. These are then classified as “good” or “bad”.
On the day (3rd April – see video below), Victor sold 390 cattle, with heifers averaging 37 peso/kg (£1.30) live weight and steers, 35-36 pesos/kg LW (£1.23-£1.27). 6-7 year old Angus cull cows averaged 23 peso/kg (81p/kg).
I met with Adrian Eduardo Bifaretti and Eugenia Ana Brusca from the“Instituto de Promotion de la Carne Vacuna” (The institute for the promotion of Argentine beef consumption). They told me that 70% of fresh beef here is sold through butchers, with very little available pre-packaged.
The Argentinian shopper goes to their local butcher and usually specifically asks for “ternra”, which means a young animal of under 350kg (this could be a heifer or steer).
In order to change shopping habits, the instituto is actively promoting “special steers” (light steers of 380kg live weight) to the Argentinian shopper. This is financed through the industry as part of a levy paid at slaughter. Farmers pay 11 pesos (39p) per head, with abattoirs paying a further 6 peso per head (21p), which goes to the institute.
The adverts for the campaign have predominantly been placed on social media, with various slogans such as; “At your home or outside, always ask for the special steer”. TV chefs have also been encouraged to promote this type of meat, with radio also being used to communicate the message. “La Rural” Show – which sees 1 million visitors come through its gates in Buenos Aires in July – is also a key route of communication to the public.
This year, the aim is to try and develop the campaign to promote the fact that a “heavy’ steer is also as tasty as a heifer.
No doubt it will be a challenge to change engrained shopping habits. However, the fact the Argentine consumer is so open to eating different cuts of beef already (whether its assado (ribs), knuckle or schnitzel for example), must work in the industry’s favour – once the taste test has been passed.