More retailer support needed to push pigmeat sales

Retailers appear to have reneged on pledges to stock more British pork as figures show a decline in the proportion of UK product on supermarket shelves.

The figures are based on a bi-monthly AHDB Porkwatch survey that compares the proportions of UK and foreign products on offer.

In March, 79% of fresh pork on display at all the major supermarkets was British compared with 81% in the January survey.

See also: 5 options to help minimise pig feed costs

But the overall figure masks a wide range in commitment to British farming across the supermarket sector.

Less than one-third (32%) of fresh pork on offer at Iceland supermarkets was British, down from 48% in January.

Asda also performed badly, stocking just 47% British in the March survey compared to 55% two months earlier.

Tesco’s proportion of fresh British pork also fell from 58% to 52% between the two surveys.

In stark contrast Aldi, Budgens, Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose continued to stock 100% British pork.

The National Pig Association (NPA) said the disappointing offering by some supermarkets came after retail sector representatives had pledged support for struggling British pig farmers in Defra-led crisis talks.

The roundtable talks were held at the start of February as Brexit, African swine fever and Covid-19 combined to hit export markets.

Plummeting prices across Europe, and Britain’s open door policy for foreign food, meant cheap pork imports undermined home-produced pork values.

Each part of the supply chain at the talks had agreed to support British farmers, with the retailers pledging to source British product over cheaper foreign imports.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said that retailers at the talks had voiced support and agreed to act.

“[They] said that demand for British pork was currently strong, so if processors could provide the product, they would sell it,” Dr Davies said.

However, only Morrisons had taken clear action to support the UK sector by developing a consumer price promotion and maintaining prices paid to its British farmers, she said.

Morrisons has since announced an uplift in pork sales on the back of the promotions, which are continuing in April.

“But frankly, following the roundtable event, we expected more from some of the others,” Dr Davies said.

“To see the proportion of British pork on display at Asda and Tesco actually falling in March is particularly disappointing.”

UK pig numbers highest since 2004

UK pig numbers have hit the highest level in 17 years, according to Defra survey figures.

The national herd had reached 4.8 million head on 1 December 2020, slightly higher (0.3%) than the figure at the same stage in 2019.

Fattening pig numbers followed the trend and were 0.3% up year on year, with a 12,000 head increase of pigs less than 20kg accounting for most of the rise.

Numbers of pigs between 20kg and 80kg held relatively steady.

However, there were 5% more heavier pigs (more than 110kg), continuing the trend of increasing weights in the past 12 months.

Breeding females, at 406,000 head, were up by 0.3%, but this figure covered anomalies in the numbers, the AHDB reported.

There was an unusually large decline of 10% in suckling or dry sows, while numbers of in-pig sows increased 8,000 head (3%) on year-earlier levels, the AHDB said.

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