Moves up-market produce healthier returns and increased optimism

Pork is breaking free from the commodity trap, with provenance, welfare, traditional breeds and value-added lines all generating price premiums.

"The real story in the last 12 months has been the growth of more premium ranges," says BPEX's Richard Lowe, citing innovations in primal cuts such as Tesco's Finest red meat range.

Relaunched in May, Finest Pork is produced from younger, outdoor bred pigs on East Anglian farms. Additional maturation boosts tenderness and traditional butchery techniques offer cuts such as rib-eye pork.

According to BPEX's Road to Recovery 2006-2009 strategy, premiums of up to 40% are up for grabs in the retail sector, "an opportunity for British high-welfare, high-quality, assured and traceable pork and pork products".

Health is also identified as a trend - and one on which BPEX has been focusing with its '96% fat free' pork marketing campaign - as are convenience and taste.

Niche sub-categories such as organic and rare breeds are also offering lucrative returns in retail and catering. TFC Express, a foodservice supplier to The Ivy, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's and Nobu, is stocking rare breed Duke of Berkshire pork.

Darker in colour, with a waxy, marbled white fat and a 'clean' taste, the pork is supplied in the form of racks, loin, neck and belly. Butchers are also making strides with products such as speciality grape, bacon and brie pie and home-cured pancetta triumphing at this year's BPEX Excellence in British Meat Products Awards.

Indeed, with the UK the biggest market for Parma ham outside of Italy, British processors are now capitalising on demand for Continental-style cures.

BPEX foodservice trade manager Tony Goodger has been trading curing expertise with companies such as Richard Woodall of Cumbria and Denhay Farms of Dorset.

Richard Woodall produces a range of sausages, hams and bacon from its own 180-strong herd of breeding sows, using salt, sugar and saltpetre to dry cure meats for up to a month. Denhay Farms processes bacon, sausages and hams including the Duchy Originals range stocked by Waitrose among others.

Meanwhile, BPEX foodservice development manager Richard Fagan was scheduled to demonstrate curing techniques to an audience of 400 during the Skills for Chefs conference at the University of Sheffield on 26-27 June. Fagan tips collar and shank as the next big pork category trends in catering, following on from the popularity of belly.

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