Sector trends

Meat Business Women: the challenge of change

What are the most pressing issues facing the meat industry, and how are women in the sector building resilience?

Key takeaways

  1. Businesses in the meat industry are key to UK economic growth, and collaboration can play a part in driving this ambitious sector forward.
  2. A thriving local agricultural supply chain and production capability benefits local markets.
  3. A sustainable strategy is a source of competitive advantage. Businesses that are already ahead in this space are more likely to survive in the long term.
  4. Organisations can drive purposeful change by ensuring diversity is recognised in the workplace.
  5. Having female leaders in operational roles means younger women can aspire to those kinds of roles themselves.
  6. Making sure women and minority groups have access to finance can contribute to a more buoyant UK economy and a successful levelling-up agenda.
  7. Many women don’t see networking as a priority but its value should not be underestimated.
  8. Taking a step back to connect with others in your industry can provide the motivation boost you need.
  9. Find someone who has your back – a mentor can help you face the challenges.
  10. Adopt a change-ready mindset.


What are the current issues facing UK farmers and growers?

Minette Batters, President of the National Famers’ Union (NFU), has steered the organisation and its members through some huge challenges including Brexit, the pandemic and the impacts of the war in Ukraine. As well as the human cost and devastation, the crisis in Ukraine is affecting the NFU’s 47,000 members across England and Wales through escalating input costs and supply issues around energy, fuel, CO2, nitrogen fertiliser and plastic.

Net zero targets create opportunities

We are approaching an agricultural revolution. There are opportunities for the industry from net zero and biodiversity targets, which can help people lead truly sustainable lives. For example:

  • looking at the fundamental role livestock plays in building soil health
  • exploring opportunities to create new trades and build circular economies
  • looking at how we can capture greenhouse gas or use waste products as fuel
  • using smart agriculture technology to make packaging out of plant-based fibres
  • using sheep wool instead of plastic for materials

Growth in meat exports

The NFU has launched its export strategy with an ambition to grow UK exports by 30% by 2030, increasing their value to over £30bn.

There are huge opportunities for growth in the UK pork market – last year it exported £557m of pork to almost 100 countries.

UK poultry genetics is responsible for 70% of the world’s broiler production. A recent deal with Japan is expected to boost the export market by £65m over five years.

The importance of UK supply chains

Beth Hart, Vice President, Supply Chain and Brand Trust at McDonald’s, works closely with the supply chain to ensure food safety and that food sourcing is ethical and sustainable. Throughout the pandemic she was reminded how powerful long-term partnerships with farmers, producers and growers can be.

McDonald’s describes its supply chain as one of the best in the world, and, alongside its brand and its franchisees, suppliers are part of its “three-legged stool” – fundamental to successful business on a global scale. After an incredibly challenging time, when the UK supply chain has been pushed to its limits, Beth says it’s time to find that resilience again.

The challenge is between maintaining value for customers and keeping it affordable for members of the supply chain to work with McDonald’s. That requires innovation, high manufacturing standards, and a thriving, locally sourced farming industry where provenance is critical.

The challenge of change in retail

The retail sector is also seeing changes related to consumer shopping habits, said Karen O’Connor, Category Director, Meat, Fish and Poultry, at Sainsbury’s. During the pandemic, people became used to cooking and eating meat at home. Concerns about inflation and possible recession means consumers are buying and spending less. This has implications for the higher tiers of meat producers, because in times like these consumers often trade down from organic, free range and outdoor.

What does this mean if you’re running a meat business? It’s about being sharp and smart:

  • give customers good reasons to believe in what you’re offering
  • expand product ranges where possible
  • showcase the great credentials behind the product and the industry
  • have the right conversations to create valuable opportunities

What does success look like?

Five key figures from industry shared their insights from 127 years of combined experience on what success and personal development mean to them:
  • Jodie Bolland, Head of Livestock and External Sales, Morrisons
  • Hannah Surtees, Group Head of Market, Strategy and Planning, Hilton Food Group
  • Julie Baker, Head of Enterprise and Climate Engagement, NatWest Group
  • Elizabeth Buchanan, NED, Defra
  • Elaine Willis, Retail Director, Linden Foods


  1. The power to make a difference for the better
  2. Being successful through teamwork
  3. Giving others opportunities and a platform
  4. Seeing people transform, stand up and deliver
  5. Purpose drives passion
  6. Don’t be afraid to recalculate your requirements because everything changes
  7. Understand why you want to work and how you want to lead
  8. Ask for mentoring and seek role models – male and female
  9. Take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere in your organisation
  10. Conquer business through fairness rather than just focusing on yourself


“I’ve learned over the years that it’s important to get your voice heard,, whether that’s through public speaking at a summit, leaning in to raise your voice or even stand up. Without knowing it you’re supporting other women, instilling confidence and creating a network.” – Julie Baker, Head of Enterprise and Climate Engagement, NatWest Group

“We are on a journey and the road is challenging; the need for us to all work together has never been greater. Groups like Meat Business Women empower people. Together we can support each other and share our extraordinary journeys. By working together and being ambitious together we can drive the change that is essential.” – Minette Batters, President, National Farmers’ Union

“McDonald’s has an aspiration that our supply chain will reflect diversity, equity and inclusion at every level in the organisation. We are shining a light on the fantastically talented women at every level in our supply chain, creating opportunities for them to thrive and realise their potential.” – Beth Hart, Vice President, Supply Chain and Brand Trust, McDonald’s

“Times have changed fundamentally and require huge personal resilience. When you're in these times of change, whether you're established or newer to the industry, you have to remind yourself that hand in hand with resilience has to be a strong sense of self belief.” – Karen O’Connor, Category Director, Meat, Fish and Poultry, Sainsbury’s

Five ways to build resilience

  1. Learn to be brave and embrace empowerment – the magic happens when you step outside your comfort zone.
  2. When a door closes, a window opens. Have the courage to go through the window, but don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t work out as you planned.
  3. Do something you really enjoy, which gives you the resilience to carry on. And don’t let circumstances stop you.
  4. Build your tribe – a support network that you can tap into and seek advice from.
  5. Find something you can do to clear your head – you’ll build your resilience and come back fighting.


Further reading

Find more insight and inspiration for women in business.

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