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Rare and non-commercial livestock breeders could benefit from the evolving tastes of Scottish meat-eaters and their willingness to spend more on quality and flavour.

Heritage breed meat
Highland Wagyu Company

The National Restaurant Association, consisting of 700 professional chefs in the US, has ranked heritage breed meats as one of the top 20 food trends in 2018. But interest in heritage breed meats looks to be more than just a passing trend.

Meats from rare and heritage breeds have unique traits that offer different flavours, textures and appearances. Gourmet chefs have taken note of these unique characteristics, such as higher fat content, distinct texture and gamey taste, and are promoting the diversity of such meats in today’s kitchen. 

Consumers increasingly seek more variety within the meat sector, and are willing to pay a premium for higher quality, ethically-sourced meats. This means that Scottish small-scale farmers, raising rare breeds, could benefit. 

The rebirth of variety and quality 

Livestock breeds, which have existed for more than 100 years can be called ‘heritage breeds’. Industrialisation of the food industry in the 1950s, and the intensification of agriculture has resulted in a narrowed genetic diversity of livestock.

For example, in the 1930s, 15 different pig breeds were raised for the market, whereas today the breed Large White or Yorkshire dominates the pork industry worldwide. 

Between 1900 and 1973, 26 of the UK’s native breeds became extinct, because of this, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) was founded, to protect native animal breeds from extinction. Since the RBST was established, no native animal breed has become extinct in the UK, and recently there’s been an increasing interest in rare pig and cattle breeds for meat consumption. 

Premium pigs 

Berkshire, Tamworth, Large Black and Gloucester Old Spot are rare heritage pig breeds that are being welcomed back to the market. The Berkshire is Britain’s oldest pig breed and is renowned as being amongst the finest pork meat. 

Berkshires are prized for their juiciness and suitability for slow-cooking, high-temperature cooking, roasts and barbecues. Chefs describe this pig as the Wagyu of the pig world, and Japanese buyers consider Berkshires to be a speciality. 

Pork from this breed is also called Kurobuta pork, and can be found at farmers’ markets, and butchers and can also be ordered online. The Hugh Grierson farm in Perthshire is one of the farms raising and selling Berkshire pigs in the UK. 

Gourmet cattle 

British heritage breeds, such as Aberdeen Angus, Highland and Shorthorn, are some of the most famous beef breeds in the world. Increasingly, native breeds, such as Dexter, Devon, and Belted Galloway are gaining a foot hold in the market. 

Another premium beef breed, the Japanese Wagyu, is extremely popular in high-class restaurants. Wagyu is often described as the caviar of meat, due to its luscious, buttery and rich flavour, and Michelin starred Scottish chef Tom Kitchin says Wagyu is the best meat in the UK. 

Highland Wagyu is a beef company in Perthshire, who breed pedigree Wagyu, Wagyu crosses, Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn, Highland and Dexter cattle. They are the largest Wagyu cattle producer in Europe, who sell their meat directly to chefs and private customers. Their sister company Wagyu House, based in Stirlingshire, is the first store selling premium Wagyu meat. 

Growth opportunities 

Currently, heritage breed pigs and cattle are primarily available in upmarket restaurants and farmer markets. Due to the increasing popularity of unique meats with premium attributes there is growing potential to promote heritage cattle and pig breeds as an ethical, high-quality and unique meat source. 

Consumers and their meat preferences will play an essential role in maintaining the genetic diversity of rare breeds and saving species from extinction. As Scotland is famous for its high quality red meat there is potential to extend the ethical and premium meat range in future with greater diversity of meat breeds on supermarket shelves. 

Next step for your business 

Want to understand more about the meat industry in Scotland? Our innovation connectors are here to help. Make Innovation Happen is a free, one-stop-shop for innovation support available to the Scottish food and drink industry. 

Are you looking for support to become more innovative? Are you working on something new or different that will add value to your business? Whether it involves product development, your processes or employees, Make Innovation Happen can help you explore your ideas and develop them all the way through to market. 

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