The autumn round of retailer meetings has begun and an interesting divergence in behaviour is appearing.
The Co-op team really impressed me – not only have they committed to move everything across to British, including lamb, which is going to cause them some difficulty, they are also really thinking about product innovation and moving the pork category forwards.
There are some exciting products in development that I am sure will increase sales of British pork.
In contrast, the Tesco buyer was all about volume – they’ve said it’ll be 3-4 years before they start thinking about new product development, so focused are they on taking back market share.
Still, at least they are finally talking about delivering the much discussed producer contract and share our concerns on product quality, so we may yet see some useful progress.
I am also increasingly concerned by the difference in opinion between the major retailers and Government. I almost envisage a boxing ring with Defra Minister George Eustice in one corner, Mr Tesco and co. in the other and the pig sector stuck in the middle.
Retailers want to improve efficiency – of course they do – they see consumption dropping, despite the decrease in pork prices and are concerned that product value is being undermined. Higher value top-tier products will remain niche and there is no interest in encouraging more producers down this route.
On the other hand, Mr Eustice, the welfare lobby parrot firmly entrenched on Mr Tesco and co’s shoulder, is talking about welfare tiering and providing financial incentives for certain production systems (think RSPCA assured).
Retailers have stressed additional tiering on supermarket shelves won’t work as we already have enough. Welfare groups are pressing us to produce an additional label for indoor systems, but how can we possibly do that with the large variety of set-ups we have and without demonising perfectly good production systems?
It’s hard enough trying to get the average consumer to notice the product is British, let alone what system the pigs have been reared in. On a similar note, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) had a roundtable recently attended by several familiar industry faces to discuss ‘higher welfare indoor production’ which, for the purposes of this event, meant free farrowing.
CIWF were given a clear steer that we have several barriers to overcome first, including the decline in pork consumption, lack of a bespoke system to be able to roll out, lack of any likely financial incentive from retailers or willingness of the consumer to pay more for something when they already have a range of choices.
The roundtable was run by the Food Business Unit of CIWF, generally considered to be the most sensible part of the organisation, but even so, I‘m sure they’ll plough on promoting welfare tiering, regardless.