Getting in on the act

Pork is the world’s number one meat and, not so long ago in the UK, there were even butchers who specialised entirely in pigmeat products.

But while its popularity worldwide remains undiminished, those heady butchery days are long gone and, in this country, pork is now generally part of the mix of a good butchery offer, playing second fiddle to the more popular beef and poultry proteins.

However, with increasing prices on beef and lamb, and poultry costs rising, pork could be facing an opportunity to step back on to centre stage. Keith Fisher, butchery development manager with Bpex, says: “A lot of retailers are reporting that pork is a best-seller, because there’s a reasonably low selling price for it and there’s a wide range of barbecue cuts you can get out of it, which is good at the moment.”

Yorkshire butcher David Lishman agrees: “Pork sales are holding up nicely, having seen a dip in lamb sales due to prices, while beef sales have remained reasonably static, but with no growth.”
He says the price of pork has encouraged more development: “We produce a number of simple kitchen-ready cuts with pork, due to them being fairly price effective. These include pork entrecôtes with an apple and sage-filled pocket, as well as crumbed pork schnitzels.”

Large pork shoulder joints are also now a regular item out of David’s Ilkely-based business, which he puts down to the Jamie or Nigella effect. “People buy this as an easy party dish, and it’s good value.”
Russell Allen, of Aubrey Allen in Leamington Spa is also working on developing pork sales: “We are certainly trying to sell more pork and have developed a few new cuts, such as a leg of pork butchered loin style, so as to be easy to carve and present nicely.”

He says the price point of pork is also proving popular with his foodservice customers. “I certainly think more restaurants are using pork and I never thought I’d see the day belly out-priced leg. We sell leg at a higher price in the shop – £6.95, while belly is £4.90. On the restaurant supply, however, it is a different story: £2.40 for leg and £4.50 for belly. The reason is chefs don’t want legs, but with belly they can put a dish on that, although quite expensive for pork, is attractive to diners and they can make great margin in comparison to other meats.”

Sales are certainly robust. Pork accounts for £846m in sales annually (Kantar Worldpanel: 52 weeks ending 17 April 2011) and, since 2008, pork consumption has seen the largest increase of all red meats, growing by 4%, underlining its appeal through its value for money, healthier perception and year-round appeal.

However, while pork may be enjoying its popularity as good value for money, butchers still need to focus on promotion, says Grimsby butcher John Pettit. “We do a boneless loin pork joint, around 800g, and, at £4 each, they just walk out of the store. We also do a lot of promotion on the loin pork steaks – you’ve got to promote product, if you want to sell more.”

Producers are also enjoying the price balance. Alistair Butler, from producer Blythburg Pork, says: “Pork as a protein is now truly great value compared to other red meats, with beef being twice as expensive as pork, and lamb being four times as expensive, it makes it easy to choose pork for dinner. With food in general being more expensive and the public having less disposable income, this should bode well for British pig farmers.”

Pig farmers could certainly do with the good news at the moment. Escalating costs and low prices have pushed producers into reigniting their 2007 campaign, this time branded ‘Pigs Are Still Worth It’. At present, producers are losing between £10 and £20 on each pig, with the DAPP hovering at around £1.50. The campaign, mainly focused on the supermarket sector, calls for more equal sharing of wealth in the supply chain, to push the DAPP above the cost of production at £1.62.

Butler says: “Pig farmers have suffered dreadfully in 2011. Our large retailers have noticed a significant floor in the pork supply chain and they are true masters at exploiting it. The period from inseminating breeding sows to finishing a pig takes nine months, so should a pig farmer decide enough is enough, and kill his herd, it will take nine months to impact on supply and demand, because he will not kill pregnant sows. So as an industry we are completely at the mercy of our supply chain, as we cannot react quickly to reduced supply and the DAPP is not related to cost of production.”

“So the sad truth is while pork sales are going to be on the up, because it’s great value, British pig farmers are going out of business, so we’ll just have to import more lower-welfare pork from Europe.”
For butchers, there’s little they can do to impact on the DAPP, says Bpex’s marketing manager Chris Lamb, and they are at the mercy of the actions of their larger brethren. “If butchers want to sell British pork, they will have to pay the premium for it – which has been the case. But any further increase in lack of availability will push the price gap between imported and British even higher.

“We’re only 40% self-sufficient, and if things continue, that will fall further and independents can, in the main, only buy what’s offered to them.”

Therefore, those butchers who are not buying direct from suppliers, such as Blythburgh Free Range Pork, are at the mercy of the wider market, and the business practices of the larger retailers. Butler says the support of independent retailers has certainly helped shelter his business: “At Blythburgh, we have fared a little better than conventional British pig farmers, thanks to the support of our butchers. They have been willing to pay a little bit more than usual for free-range pork as they value our supply chain. The opportunity to come and see our pigs, know that they are all from one farm and the marketing support we provide has proved successful.”

Overall, sales of pork through butchers remains substantial, with the sector accounting for 12,684t of volume sales (52 w/e May 2011), accounting for around 7.4% of the market. This was largely driven by frying/grilling chops and steaks – with a 23.2% and 12.5% volume share respectively – and leg and loin roasting joints – with a respective 15.5% and 11.7% share.

The unseasonably warm weather over Easter has been a key influence on sales of chops and steaks. Many consumers and catering establishments took the opportunity to fire up the barbecue earlier to celebrate both the sunshine and the extra Bank Holidays.

Fisher adds: “Due to the good weather in April and May, many consumers opted to have barbecues rather than a traditional roast dinner, which would usually be the meal of choice at this time of year. As a result of this increase in barbecue cuts, we’ve also seen a significant increase in the use of marinades, sales of which have shot up by 80% in butchers’ shops in the past year.”

While pork consumption is most popular among adults aged 45-64, children are increasingly enjoying it too (Pork Consumption Review June 2011). There has been a 15.8% growth in 6- to 10-year-olds eating pork and 8.6% growth in 11- to 16-year-olds in the last year, and this presents a real opportunity for butchers, says Fisher.

“With more children enjoying pork than ever before, butchers are ideally placed to offer customers a range of child-friendly cuts and products, including homemade burgers or stir-fry strips, which can be served with pasta and sauce.

“Pork joints are an ideal option for the whole family to enjoy and present another opportunity for butchers to drive sales, particularly across the evening and weekend meal occasion, at which roasts are one of the top featured dishes.”

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