The outlook for the UK poultry industry is positive, but there are still challenges to overcome.
That was the view of Steve Ellis, managing director for poultry at 2 Sisters, speaking at the Pig and Poultry Fair 2014 (Tuesday 13 May).
Poultry meat popularity growing
Globally, said Mr Ellis, there is a huge demand for protein as the developing countries become richer, while closer to home demand is also increasing.
Last year in the UK, chicken outstripped red meat for the first time in terms of per capita consumption.
He attributed the increase domestically to the rise in the UK population and the increased popularity of chicken as a healthy meat option.
However, he said, the rising retail prices caused by higher feed costs have depressed volume consumption over the past year.
“Our consumers are incredibly price conscious. Any increase in price has a straight reduction in volume. As the price went up last year, consumers switched to frozen ready meals, pizzas and other meal accompaniments.”
Mr Ellis said the trend has started to move back the other way, but global cost pressures are set to continue.
With 9 billion people forecast on the planet for 2050, China already takes two thirds of all global soya protein and this continues to have an impact on feed prices.
Consumer food safety concerns
Another challenge, he said, was consumer concern about safety, with many washing chicken unnecessarily before use.
The industry needs to educate consumers to explain that chicken is safe once cooked and the main focus must be on eradicating campylobacter.
For 2 Sisters, on-farm measures include biosecurity, a farmer training scheme on eradicating campylobacter, the launch of farmer incentive trials and a ‘no thinning’ trial. Beyond the farm, carcass washing and rapid surface chilling were being tested.
“There is no silver bullet, and as an industry we have to do everything we can to tackle this risk that is there, to ensure that consumers feel confident.
“The best place to spend our money is on the things that matter the most.”
Rather than focus on input measures such as stocking density, the industry should focus on ‘outcome’ measures such as pododermatitis or campylobacter, he said.
That might mean prioritising things that deliver more than just a gimmick, such as the focus on perches, “I haven’t seen a single chicken perching on a perch,” said Mr Ellis.