Woolworths’ decision to remove the trademark identifying beef as graded under the eating quality program Meat Standards Australia is in line with industry trends towards brands being the driver of red meat calibre.
The green and gold MSA stickers had been used by the supermarket giant to differentiate it’s higher-quality cuts from budget buys.
Woolworths said recent customer research had shown the MSA label and standards weren’t well understood by shoppers, so it was working to develop simpler quality messages on packaging.
A company spokesperson said Woolworths would continue to source fresh meat from the same Australian producers and to the same high standards.
Meat and Livestock Australia, which runs the MSA grading system, says Woolworths’ communication had been the commitment to MSA to underpin quality remained but at the retail level, the concentration would be on branding.
MLA’s Michael Crowley said MSA had always been a quality mark rather than a brand in its own right.
“At the end of the day we want to make sure beef meets or exceeds consumer expectations for quality consistently and the program achieves that,” he said.
“There is agreement across industry sectors that we’ll deliver that best through brands rather than using MSA generically.
“So we are seeing a more subtle use of the trademark and Woolworths’ decision is part of that evolution.
“In the past, a lot of independent retailers have also used the trademark but that has changed significantly over past few years with the growth in brands.”
Sixteen new brands became MSA-licenced to underpin their offering with the independent endorsement in the past financial year, taking the total number of red meat MSA-licenced brands to 172.
Some of those brands are now moving into export markets and MLA says that is the new growth stage of the MSA program.
Concerns were raised within the beef industry the Woolworths move was due to a drought-driven lack of supply of MSA product but that does not appear to be the case.
The latest MSA statistics show compliance was at 93.4 per cent in September, down only 1pc on the same month last year.
Mr Crowley did make the point, however, that even though adult cattle slaughter was increasing, much of what was being turned off was not being consigned for MSA grading.
“In the past couple of months, we have seen a reduction in the percentage of our production being MSA graded as result of the big increase in female cattle slaughter,” he said.
“But overall for this financial year, based on the growth of the program and increased production out of feedlots, we are still on track to record similar MSA figures, or above, last year’s.”
More than 3.1m head were processed through the MSA program in 2017/18, which represented 43pc of the national adult cattle slaughter and was a 3pc lift on the previous financial year.
MSA program bosses have set a goal to be grading 50pc of the national adult slaughter by 2020 and Mr Crowley said that was still on track.
“Producers are hanging out for change in fortunes with seasons and a few bad years will have an impact on that goal but at the moment we are still confident,” he said.
The Woolworths’ spokesperson reiterated the company was committed to working with the best producers to provide customers with the best quality 100 percent Australian-grown fresh meat.
“We were the first national supermarket to gain MSA accreditation on our fresh meat and have worked hard to promote the standard over many years,” the spokesperson said.