My correspondent was pleased to report a significant improvement in the quality and price of supermarket beef this week since last writing from Zurich, Switzerland.
Dubai in the United Arab Emirates has a population of around 3 million, of which a staggering 85-90 per cent are expats, with the remainder consisting of local wealthy Emiratis.
The combination of wealth and reliance on imported foods has made the UAE an ideal market for high-end foods and other products.
The supermarkets visited were aimed at high-value customers and located in Westfield-type centres similar to Australia, but around triple the size and complete with everything from aquariums to ski slopes.
In both supermarkets, Australian beef dominated the shelf space by far more than any other country, including New Zealand, Brazil and the US.
The Dubai Mall, situated adjacent to the Burj Khalifa, houses a Waitrose, one of a number of upmarket British supermarkets in the city.
Waitrose in the UK has a reputation for its upmarket positioning there and it would seem it is very much interested in the high-end market in Dubai.
Australian organic beef featured prominently under the Waitrose Duchy brand, while the general Waitrose label featured both branded and unbranded Australian Wagyu and Australian Angus products.
Noticeable amongst the brands was Stanbroke Diamantina.
The country of origin was prominently featured on product packaging and ticketing.
The Waitrose also offered a partitioned-off area for the sale of pork, an interesting feature considering the UAE is a Muslim country.
The French Carrefour chain has numerous outlets and a large presence in the Mall of the Emirates, and it featured some higher-end Australian Wagyu and Angus (including Longhorn and Prime brand) as well as some US Black Angus and lower-end generic Brazilian product.
As would be expected from the diversity of range, prices varied considerably.
One Australian dollar currently equals 2.59 UAE Dirhams (Dhs).
At Waitrose, vacuum-packed slices or small sub-primals were as follows:
At Carrefour, the presentation was generally overwrapped styrene trays, prices were as follows:
As well as packaged product there was a considerable amount of freshly sliced or prepared meats displayed in refrigerated butcher-shop style cabinets.
These ranged from Wagyu tenderloin at 735Dhs/kg (as shown in the accompanying photo) through to prepared roasts, and Dutch veal to basic beef mince, much the same as a good retail display in Australia.
This example of involvement of a major British supermarket with Australian beef product should auger well for uptake of higher-end product into the UK when the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement enters into force later this year.
However, British consumers are accustomed to much lower food prices and there may be an upper limit on the price/netback achieved in the UK versus the UAE.
It is also safe to say that my correspondent took the opportunity to eat some quality steak again.
John Hall was chief research officer at the Queensland Livestock and Meat Authority 40 years ago, driving that organisation's enthusiastic lead role in beef carcase classification.
It was this pioneering work that led John to become the inaugural chief executive of Australia's Authority for Uniform Specification of Meat and Livestock, AUS-MEAT, in 1985.
Considered at the time one of the toughest jobs in the industry because of strong sectoral opposition to the initiative, it was only through John's capacity, resilience and uncompromising determination that AUS-MEAT survived those early turbulent years and went on to become the success it is today.
All who knew him would agree this was the crowning achievement of John's career.
John came to Queensland from Devon and found employment with QDPI as a dairy AI technician.
He was active in the Dayboro district, a big dairying area at that time and that is where he met his wife Lennie.
Later he moved to Swans Lagoon Research Station in North Queensland where it is likely he developed his interest in beef research.
A move to Emerald followed where in addition to a full workload he took on external studies in economics.
He continued those studies after a move to head office in Brisbane and achieved his Master's degree in 1978.
It was not long before the QLMA role was offered and John left QDPI to take it up.
The carcase classification work he championed there in conjunction with Dr Ray Johnson from the University of Queensland Vet School took in Bundaberg, Kilcoy, Beenleigh and Mackay abattoirs.
Borthwick's Mackay manager Richie Goldup was an early adopter of the research and led the way with a hot weight/measured fat/dentition price grid.
But further challenges soon beckoned and John left QLMA to take up the role of deputy director-general of the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture.
That career change also proved to be relatively short-term as AMLC chairman, Dick Austen, was keen to secure John's talents to lead the development of AUS-MEAT.
Early achievements there included a national description language and a disciplined approach to over-the-hooks trading.
Feedback became the buzzword with feedback data sheets for carcase-based trading and the commencement of the first Feedback Trial to coincide with Beef Week 1988.
John stepped down from AUS-MEAT in 1992.
From there he turned his interest to consulting initially as a working partner with Australia Agricultural Consulting and Management before buying out the business.
He did a lot of work in South America, particularly Uruguay and Argentina.
John eventually sold the business and retired to a small cattle property at Coondoo near Kin Kin where he took great pride in his F1 herd.
Sadly he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer only last month and lost that battle Sunday week ago. He was 81.
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