SCOTCH fillet steak has become a champagne-type luxury in many Western Australian households, as red meat cabinet price tags continue to creep upward.
According to Meat & Livestock Australia group industry insights and strategy manager Scott Cameron, national retail prices of beef, at supermarkets and butchers, were up 11 per cent per kilogram on year-ago levels.
This can be compared to a 3pc price growth in lamb, a flat line in pork and a 1pc decline in poultry.
Mr Cameron said factors affecting beef prices included limited cattle supply, increased demand, skyrocketing transport costs and severe labour shortages post COVID-19.
But he said this had not affected consumers' willingness to splash cash on beef.
"The money consumers are spending on beef has remained flat, which means they are buying or shopping less frequently, yet still spending the same amount," Mr Cameron said.
"Interestingly enough, people are purchasing less chicken even though it is cheaper.
"That goes to show - the preference for beef is still strong."
Mr Cameron said while the cost of meat in national butcher's shops and supermarkets was similar, the ability to offset margin losses was not.
He said unlike supermarkets, many butchers did not have a broad portfolio of other grocery products to counterbalance losses.
At Olsen Butchers, South Perth, the price of red meat has slowly climbed by about 25pc in the past two years.
Business owner Gavin Olsen said unfortunately to continue trading there were some costs, which had to almost immediately be passed on to consumers.
Despite this, the preference for beef has remained strong and people have not ditched red meat from their diets entirely.
Instead, Mr Olsen found they had chosen to reduce their intake or - in the case of steak - seek an alternative meat product or cut.
"Previously people may have consumed red meat two to three times a week, whereas now it may be one to two times," Mr Olsen said.
"We are finding many people, who may have previously eaten a fillet or scotch fillet steak, are happy to step outside their comfort zone and try sirloin or rump.
"Say scotch fillet retails at $70 per kilogram and someone buys a steak that is a couple of 100 grams, then they are looking at paying up to $15 plus per steak.
"A year ago, scotch fillet was retailing for below $50 per kilogram."
For Olsen Butchers, retail prices were first affected at the beginning of the pandemic when demand for basic meat spiked during lockdown.
Mr Olsen said people were buying a kilogram of products such as mince, sausages and diced steak to keep in their freezer.
He believed this was partially due to people staying home and cooking more, which in turn increased meat consumption.
"Part of me also thinks that maybe we went into a 'survival-type mode mentality' where keeping a couple of kilos of mince or chicken breast in your freezer gave you a sense of security.
"That was seen with a lot of staple items, where even though people had enough to survive for a long period of time, they felt a sense of security by doing so.
"Demand came quickly, it was a one-week period where everyone's mentality changed and it has remained really steady ever since."
In the past six months, the retail meat sector has been affected by the flow-on effect of extreme weather conditions in the Eastern States and lower livestock numbers.
As a butcher, Mr Olsen said he felt lucky compared to bigger supermarket retailers, who rely on a distribution chain, warehousing and dispatch.
"We buy directly from farmers and abattoirs, so we can process our own meat and get the product into the cabinet and onto the retail shelf straight away," he said.
"That's definitely been our competitive advantage over the past couple of years."
While there has been talk of issues in securing supply, Mr Olsen said he hadn't been too badly affected.
He put this down to relationships within the industry over long periods of time, which helps when meat was short.
"To answer the supply question, good quality and consistent supply has been difficult to find but not impossible," Mr Olsen said.
"At the start of COVID we had an increase in demand, but no increase in supply.
"The supply chain had already been stretched over the past four to five years, so when the pandemic hit it stretched it even more."
Over the past six months, labour shortages, in particular, have made it harder for butchers to buy individual cuts, including rump cap.
Mr Olsen said it was near impossible to purchase rump cap cuts for his restaurant Nextdoor, which is next door to his butcher shop on Angelo Street, without having to buy the entire rump.
He put this down to the bigger processors not having enough hands and feet on the floor to make the extra cuts.
"I think the mentality now is to remove the rump, chuck it in a Cryovac bag and get it out the door.
"That's not just in this cut of rump caps, but it is across the board."
As we bid farewell to summer, where steaks are popular, Mr Olsen said it would be interesting to watch the market shift in winter.
He expects to see an increased demand in mince and diced steak products, which could take the pressure off steak primal cuts.
Want weekly news highlights delivered to your inbox? Sign up to the Farm Weekly newsletter.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.