Restaurant-ready

Earlier this year, a report from the NPD Group/Crest revealed that pig meat was the fastest-growing meat in foodservice, with total servings up 8.1% year-on-year in 2011. Although the biggest growth was in seen in bacon, which increased by 29.5%, and sausages, up by 21.3%, pork also saw solid growth of 4.6%. This reflected an increasing appreciation of pork's value for money among chefs, who are improving returns by buying in whole pig carcases and experimenting with a wider range of cuts such as collar, trotters and cheeks.

In a bid to find out more about the drivers in the pork out-of-home market, Bpex foodservice trade sector manager Tony Goodger recently carried out some detailed research among consumers and chefs, which was published in a new report released earlier this month.

The report reveals pork and pork products remain the most popular meat served out-of-home, with 1.7 billion meal occasions in the year to March 2012, representing a 5.4% year-on-year growth. An impressive two-thirds of meat dishes served out of home now include some form of pig meat.

When it comes to fresh pork, two-thirds of consumers interviewed said they would order a pork dish from the menu, but there were some barriers among the third, who would not. "Primarily, they want more information when ordering pork," explains Goodger. "I think it is beholden on catering butchers to try to provide a bit more information with the pork they are selling namely, if it is assured, what the country of origin is, and being a bit more specific with the cut." Research revealed that more than 60% of consumers believe it is important to know that their pork is locally produced or that information on country of origin is given.

Another key finding was that while roast pork is very popular on menus, many consumers would like to see a wider variety of pork dishes on the menu. "We have got to develop other cuts now to bring more modern serving into the foodservice market," explains Goodger. "Suppliers into that market need to look at other cuts and promote them hard into foodservice, because chefs can and will be adventurous in how they cook those cuts. The ones we see in particular are collar and neck and shoulder."

For now, the interest in alternative cuts is largely driven by independent pubs, says Goodger. "We took some chefs out the other week to a pig farm and they said they did things like pressed pig's head and chargrilled pork collar steaks and cuts using a fillet as opposed to using the loin," he explains.

However, there are also opportunities for alternative cuts among mainstream foodservice chains. "One of the things we have noticed is that Mexican is big in terms of restaurant expansion, and Mexican menus all have pork on them," says Goodger. "It is mainly BBQ pulled pork using the collar, so there is a lot of mileage in suppliers developing the collar."

With the economy still proving a challenge, Goodger says the primary concern for chefs is margins and profitability. "I did a couple of focus groups in January, with two groups of eight chefs, and one of the things that came back is that they are all under pressure on their margins and are serving smaller portions of proteins," says Goodger. "So foodservice suppliers need to offer pork in smaller portion sizes for the kitchen, or if selling a whole belly, say how many portions they believe can be cut out of that."

In a bid to increase pork's scope in foodservice, Bpex is following hot on the footsteps of Eblex and developing a range of sous-vide cuts, which it hopes will be out later this year. The organisation is also heavily promoting health messages around pork to overcome the misnomer that it is a fatty meat. "And we would really like to see more NPD development from suppliers into caterers," says Goodger, who points out that this year's Foodservice Pork Product of the Year award was won by an entrant to the innovation category which used minced pork.

"Minced pork is vastly under-used in foodservice. It is very flexible and is a good way of carrying flavours. You don't have to use it as a burger, it also works well in Italian-based food, stir-fries and south-east Asian food."

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