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REVEALED: the inside story behind the halal meat price hikes during coronavirus

Yesterday I paid £37.50 for 3 kg of beef and £12 for 2 medium chicken at a butchers in Goodmayes.

I was annoyed – but also wanted to make sure I was directing my anger in the right direction. So I’ve spent today making calls to various key players in the meat and poultry industry to understand why exactly prices are so high.

In this article I lay out what I found. There’s a lot we, the average consumer, are missing from what is going on.

I will only focus on lamb and chicken in this article as it constitutes approximately 30% and 65% of the Muslim protein spend, with beef only attracting 5% or so.

I’ll first mention some key trends in lamb and chicken, then turn to how we know if someone is over-charging, and some practical advice on what we should be doing to help the pricing situation.

Market trends in lamb industry

Firstly, the cyclical lambing season means that generally from January onwards there is gradually less lamb available, with the lowest supply availability around May (after Easter) resulting in peak lamb prices. As the lamb supply increases the price falls to its lowest point around September before it picks up again for Christmas trade. The Welsh lamb levy board explain it nicely in the following graph when they advise farmers when to market their lambs.

Secondly, this cyclical seasonality was exacerbated this year by the flooding that we suffered a month or so ago. Lamb being a natural outdoor grazing animal meant the flooding affected a lot of the lamb they would graze in the UK (pretty much all of them) and farmers took less of them to the live-stock market meaning supply was reduced somewhat.

Thirdly, the huge spike in demand from us, the consumer, has led to farmers selling their lamb at higher prices (its a simple auction process) and for end retailers selling it us for more. Ultimately, if we don’t buy more than we need, prices will go back to normal.

Fourthly, there is a strong demand from the supermarkets that constitute about 45% of the UK’s lamb buyers, and when such a large chunk of the market demands more, that naturally distorts prices. This is linked though, to the above point about us as the consumer demanding more generally.

The result is that there is a real shortage of affordable meat available for independent shops and retailers (such as halal butchers), and they then pass on the expensive meat to us. This can be addressed though if we don’t over-buy.

Market trends in the poultry industry

The poultry industry is not susceptible to as much seasonality as the lamb industry is as most chickens are reared indoors in a climate-controlled environment.

However the key disruption in this industry is that about 40% of the UK’s chicken is imported from Europe – and this key supply chain has been disrupted with coronavirus. See this FT article for further colour, though it is primarily addressing industrial supply chains. So although British chicken production costs hasn’t gone up significantly the big shortage in the general market has meant suppliers scrambling for supply.

How do you know if someone is vastly overcharging?

There is no simple answer unfortunately as meat and poultry prices are constantly changing and the retail outlet we are buying from may well have bought at a different time to the one next door to it (and so achieved different prices). One business may also be run more efficiently with lower overheads and operating costs.

Also, different cuts of meat are different. So some bits of meat are “essentials” or “staples”, whilst others are better seen as “luxuries”.

My impression, having asked a few butchers and producers and talked to a few consumers, is that we should reasonably expect prices to be about 20-50% higher than normal – and that this should only remain the case for the next week or so if consumers start buying at their normal rate. Another way of benchmarking is to look at what the major multiples are charging online for their meat, and making an adjustment for Halal-related credentials and costs. Any more than that, and that is probably a red flag and you should report to the Competition & Markets Authority

If however a shop is selling a luxury (e.g. chocolate) for a higher mark-up, I’d be happy to accept that up to 100% of the standard price.

Another easy way to check if a shop is taking advantage of you is to check how much it is selling staples such as toilet rolls, nappies and hand sanitisers for. The reason why these are a good test for price-hiking is because there is no shortage of these items and so if a shop is overcharging here, it is doing it only to make a quick profit on peoples’ difficulties. If it is selling them for a much higher price than normal, you can expect that they are taking this approach into their meat section as well.

(However note that the current extra demand has resulted in toilet-roll manufacturers working throughout the night which would inevitably result in extra costs due to over-time etc. but these should only result in modest increases of 5-10% at most.)

Another good way of working out if someone is ripping you off is being willing to leave the shop and go down the street to the next couple of butchers and get their prices too, or check online to see what online halal meat shops are charging. It’ll quickly become apparent if someone is way out.

Some practical advice

Firstly, stop panic-buying and hoarding. We are quick to point fingers at butchers, but they are only reacting to our behaviour – which has been irrational and deeply irresponsible in many cases.

Secondly, we must all make sure we must use every bit of that food we have bought. This advice is particularly addressed at panic-buyers. There is now £1 billion more food sat in our homes this week than there was last week.

We waste on average about one-third of food produced for human consumption globally, and each family wastes around £470 per year on food. Given that, I am very concerned that not only have the hoarders caused massive issues for the entire country, the food they have bought will actually just go in the bin.

Thirdly, don’t just blame the butcher without double-checking locally to make sure they are indeed ripping you off. Butchers are plentiful in Muslim areas and are locked in stiff competition with each other. Consequently they are the weakest link in the long supply chain of meat.

For sure there is definitely bad behaviour going on among this group, but there are good, honest butchers out there too who are having to increase prices as their suppliers have increased their prices.

Fourthly, we are quick to call out bad practice but not so quick to praise and promote those who haven’t put prices up. Give them a shout-out on your social networks and when the pandemic dies, which it will insha’Allah, return their honesty with continued custom.

Lastly, lets all help each other out by sharing what meat prices we are seeing in our neighbourhoods. That should help us discover what the real market price should be so we can fight back against dodgy butchers. I’ll start:

Beef 1 kg: £12.50
1 chicken: £6
lamb 1 kg: (I didn’t buy any – but please do send in your prices in the comments below)

Some consumers have started a campaign whatsapp group to monitor prices, report bad behaviour and praise those who supported the community. You can join the group here.

Please do comment to help everyone. I’ll update this article as soon as we have enough data to be able to paint a reliable picture.

Further reading:

This is a great article I came across on prices in the Muslim retail food sector right now.

14 Comments

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14 Comments. Leave new

  • Haydar Koher
    March 22, 2020 7:09 pm

    1x Medium Chicken £3.50
    1kg Lamb Mince £8
    Farnborough, Hampshire

    Reply
  • Haydar Koher
    March 22, 2020 7:11 pm

    1x Medium Chicken £5 (normally £3.50)
    1kg Lamb Mince £8 (normally £6)
    Farnborough, Hampshire

    Please ignore previous message

    Reply
  • Start eating coriander from today.2 chickens for 12.crazy

    Reply
  • I buy from a locally reared free range organic chicken and lamb and Alhamdulilah they are double the price than the local shops but the prices have stayed the same. Corona virus or demand has not affected them as they slaughter according to demand!

    Reply
    • Aslamualakum to all,
      Please use more veggies and fish.
      I buy from Sainsbury if I can get drumstick/boneless.
      Price I normal.
      I am using tuna/ cheese/ eggs/ not much meat.
      Divide meat in small packs use less and mix in veggie/ daal.
      It is better donate double price to need. We have to change our eating behaviour.
      Shazi

      Reply
  • This still doesn’t explain why the supermarkets are able to maintain halal meat prices at their normal levels whilst everyone else adds a mark up. I appreciate they have more buying power or they might be able to absorb the costs however I’m suspicious that not a single supermarket has raised their prices – not even by a few pence.

    I’m assuming a lot here but again the retailers are trying to blame the suppliers – the same suppliers that the big supermarkets use?

    Rice has gone up in Asian stores – supermarkets remain the same. Flour has gone up supermarkets remain the same. Onions have gone up and I’ll say it again, supermarkets still remain the same.

    I’m also not inclined to agree with you about loo roll or other goods being more expensive as they have to pay overtime. Those companies are now profiting at a tremendous rate like never before – with that level you shouldn’t need to charge more if your expanding operations. I’ve not heard of companies moaning during peacetime that they are selling too much and they will therefore have to pass on this added headache to consumers!

    We have heard that there are no shortage of supplies or goods – this in my mind would have been the only time you have a legitimate reason to raise prices as demands exceed supply.

    I don’t know how comfortable you are with libel issues but I’d welcome a thorough undercover investigation from you guys, secret cameras and all to identify some of the big players in this chain profiting from our misery. Let’s call them out before more households are strained further into the summer by this un-islamic and unethical behaviour.

    Reply
  • Haydar, can we have the name and number if shop you buy meat from as seems decent price

    Reply
  • Assalamu alykum, I bought lamb £14.99 for 1kg normal price was £11
    Butcher Name: Nimat Halal meat (London)

    Reply
  • Shehzana Kausar
    March 27, 2020 6:20 pm

    Aslam o elikum bought four pounds boneless for £20 Halifax west Yorkshire pearl supermarket 30 eggs for £ 4.29 normal price before Corona virus was 2 trays for £4.50 eastern pride Halifax

    Reply
  • Shehzana Kausar
    March 27, 2020 6:21 pm

    Aslam o elikum bought four pounds boneless for £20 Halifax west Yorkshire pearl supermarket 30 eggs for £ 4.29 normal price before Corona virus was 2 trays for £4.50 eastern pride Halifax

    Reply

    Reply
  • Farook Oomerjee
    March 27, 2020 9:28 pm

    This has happened mainly in Assin meat shops but I live in a Turkish area and prices have remain the same. They are not ripping there Customers.

    Reply
  • Tahir Mahmood
    March 28, 2020 9:50 am

    Local Asda b10 and Tesco in Birmingham got in store halal butchers and there prices have not changed

    Reply
  • Ahmed Kerris
    April 1, 2020 4:32 pm

    Some Halal shops are just taking advantage, as simple as that, not only the greed is with the Asian Halal shops, here in London is almost every Halal shop. A kilo of chicken breast is £9 in East London Algerian butcher, while his previous supplier in Walthamstow sold it to my neighbour friend for £16 for 5 kgs. On other note, it’s unbefitting to use the Word GURU , you are a Muslim, brother.

    Reply
  • Nimat Halal meat london charged £10 for 2 chicken breast meat. Normally £4. They said its business and said next time it could be higher.

    I am a regular customer and would not go back when things return to normal.

    Reply

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Panic-buying, Hoarding, and Hiking up Prices – an Islamic Perspective
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