SUPERMARKET king Woolworths has set up a new stand-alone division for red meat in what beef industry commentators say is a bid to stay on the front foot in terms of security of supply.
In the wash-up of a health pandemic that saw mince stripped from shelves and against a backdrop of higher cattle prices putting pressure on profitability, Woolworths has launched the new dedicated meat business called GreenStock.
It will bring together team members involved in Woolworths' end-to-end red meat supply chain, including the livestock, processing and operations teams, which currently sit within the supermarket's integrated protein division.
It's a restructure which will see red meat receive individual attention within the Woolworths Group. Other animal protein management and sourcing will continue under current arrangements.
GreenStock will also have a mandate to partner more widely across the Group to support sales growth in the international and wholesale meat markets.
The supermarket is currently actively recruiting a leader to run the GreenStock business.
Woolworths' Claire Peters, who will chair a management board overseeing the GreenStock business, said the move was in recognition of growing and changing red meat needs.
"GreenStock will work with our primary producers and suppliers to provide the combined red meat needs of our retail, international and wholesale businesses into the future," she said.
"It's a key step in unlocking growth in our international and wholesale businesses, and will be underpinned by investments in new analytics systems and capabilities to improve our forecasting and drive efficiencies and better yields across the group ."
Woolworths' director of buying Paul Harker said the livestock buying team would continue to work with existing primary producers who the supermarket had partnered with for many years to deliver high-quality meat.
"Our partnerships with abattoirs and meat processors who support our supermarkets will remain unchanged as well," he said.
"We know how important these industry relationships are and will continue to invest in partnerships for mutual success."
Meanwhile, the fresh food people have demonstrated an inclination to play an expanded role in wider agriculture industries.
Speaking at the Australian Bureau of Agriculture Resource Economics Outlook conference this week, Mr Harker said the supermarket partners with more than 18000 suppliers overall - some of whom have been sending product to Woolworths for more than 50 years.
He said Woolworths recognised the value of a healthy and prosperous agricultural industry.
In discussing key current consumer trends, many strongly influenced by the pandemic experience, he said value would be increasingly important to customers heading into this year.
One thing that has emerged since the advent of COVID-19 was an increased openness to try more local product and a desire for Australian-made, he reported.
Meat, dairy and fruit and vegetables were categories where Australian-produced was particularly important.
Mr Harker was candid about just how large the impact of the pandemic was on the supermarket game.
"In 2020, most of Australia's food service sector closed during the early stages of the pandemic, pushing consumers towards food retailing," he said.
"Consumer response led to highly elevated demand and stockpiling.
"As a result, consumer expenditure at grocery stores rose by 24 per cent in March last year, and monthly expenditure has remained higher into 2021.
"Supermarkets effectively had three years of growth rolled into one."
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