14 January 2000

Joint venture to aid organic meat sales

A NEW venture bringing together an organic meat producer and a 25,000-sow integrated pig business will use strong branding and combined production expertise in a bid to lift British organic pigmeat sales.

Wilts-based Eastbrook Farms Organic Meat and Suffolk-based British Quality Pigs will target supermarkets with new branded products to exploit huge potential growth in the UK organic market. Over half the organic pigmeat sold in the UK is imported, mainly from Denmark, Sweden and Germany.

The 50:50 venture – Eastbrook Farm Organic Pigs – will offer long-term contracts, based on the cost of production, to farmers prepared to meet organic standards.

Organic pigmeat from EFOP founder Helen Brownings 120-sow as well as 12 other producers for whom the company slaughters and processes pigs is already sold to retailers, with Sainsbury being a prominent customer.

Mrs Browning believes working with Assured British Meat-owned BQP, which is linked to processing company BQF, will enable EFOP to trim production costs without compromising organic standards. BQPs production system, based on high welfare straw-based conditions, is founded on outdoor breeding farms.

"BQPs free-range producers set the standards for the rest of the free-range industry," she said.

Mrs Browning emphasised that, although all Eastbrooks pig suppliers are making money, this form of production requires a huge restructuring of the business and is not an easy way out of the current crisis in the pig sector.

Conversion of land to organic status from scratch can take two or three years, different management techniques are required and production costs are typically 250% more than conventional pigmeat. Organic feed can also cost around three times as much as conventional feed.

Mrs Browning said a target of 5% of the market for organic pigmeat within seven or eight years is realistic. The establishment of brand loyalty is essential as the UK will never be able to compete on costs, she said.

"Our main EU competitors receive more government support and have lower organic standards than UK producers."

BQP/BQF managing director Andrew Saunders welcomed the link with the Eastbrook name.

"We believe that branding a significant proportion of our organic pork products, coupled with the development of innovative new products, is the best way to build consumer loyalty to UK-produced organic meat," he said. &#42