An Analysis of the Northern Ireland Beef Supply Chain- Barriers, Opportunities and Recommendations for Optimal Performance

  • Stephanie Brooks

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The Northern Ireland (NI) beef (and sheep) sector contributes approximately 28% of the total annual agri-food industry sales, and represents the largest proportion of the NI agri-food industry, emphasising its economic importance to the local economy. However, the profitability of the beef supply chain is considered poor, and there is a heavy reliance on subsidy, which impacts on the performance of the supply chain. There is significant evidence to suggest that the beef supply chain as a whole entity is under investigated in relation to identifying weaknesses and areas of improvement along the length of the supply chain. Little or no studies have aimed to examine the beef chain from a holistic/ whole perspective, taking into account multiple stakeholder perceptions. The aim of this thesis was to identify barriers and opportunities in the NI beef supply chain using a multiple stakeholder approach. Using several qualitative methods (semi-structured interviews, case study and an action research workshop), 6 studies were completed across 4 stakeholder groups in the NI beef industry, including, farmers (1), processors (2), government and relevant industry, research and lobby bodies/organisations (3) and retailers (4).

Internal barriers were identified at different stages of the supply chain including at farming, processing, retailing and governance stages, such as farm inefficiency and fragmentation, customer dependency, unstable supply arrangements and bureaucracy. Furthermore, significant barriers relating to the external environment (external barriers) such as, political developments, currency volatility and the competition of perceived healthier meats were also identified as problematic. The beef industry’s approach to marketing is also considered to be a barrier to optimal performance. Findings indicated that poor marketing was due to a lack of long term strategy and structure, an absence of a dedicated marketing body and because differentiation/brand identity for NI is difficult to achieve. It was believed that the approach taken in Scotland was much more cohesive, with the case study into Scotch Beef identifying significant learnings for the NI beef industry. The relationship between farmer and processor in NI was seen as adversarial and another barrier, with farmers regarding actions of processors as personal and an expression of power, rather than part of the normal competitive environment. These actions were reinforced the farmers’ own sense of ‘powerlessness’, created mistrust and resulted in resigned engagement for farmers. Improved collaboration between stakeholders is seen as a mechanism for improving relationship quality, but has its challenges in practice. Opportunities for the beef industry were identified as improved farm practices, genetic performance, consumer driven products and online selling platforms, among others. However, this thesis identified that in order to overcome barriers and grasp opportunities, collaboration, communication and transparency are key, and recommended the industry as a whole outline practical and feasible solutions to improvement. A collaborative workshop illustrated the first steps in stakeholders agreeing the issues in the supply chain. It was recommended that stakeholders must act quickly to improve the competitiveness and resiliency of the NI beef industry, particularly in light of the unknowns of Brexit.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsDepartment of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
SupervisorMoira Dean (Supervisor), Christopher Elliott (Supervisor) & Helen McAneney (Supervisor)

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