The crisis has taken a heavy toll, but change presents fresh opportunities

In the latest issue of Pig World, Mark Hayward, who, with his brother Paul, runs Dingley Dell Pork, in Suffolk, a 900-sow farrow-to-finish unit, explains how COVID-19 has had a big impact on a business heavily geared towards foodservice, but has also presented fresh opportunities

Mark Hayward

Mark Hayward

This article is meant to be a comment and, considering it’s an update on where Dingley Dell is in relation to the current crisis, a one- or two-word comment from me would be suitable, but unprintable.

Given that our market is predominantly foodservice, the current crisis has taken a heavy toll on our sales, with the majority of our end customers having to close their businesses in the short term. So what to do and how to react to a changing situation?

Firstly, the closure of food service has created a large surge in retail sales, which initially created shortages in the supermarkets and consequently drove some business elsewhere. The supermarkets soon sorted out their supply chains, however, and impressively returned to normal in terms of supply issues, albeit with a huge increase in sales volume. Now we hear talk of reduced lines and downward pressure on suppliers, with reference to Tesco, of late.

Pre-COVID, we had started to re-supply butchers’ shops and a resurgence of popularity in this sector during the crisis has been beneficial to us. For the butchers who have seen a large upturn in customers, their challenge is to retain them going forward – the key is probably to continue and enhance a differentiated offering to the supermarkets.

Internet sales is an interesting market, which, again, has benefited hugely during the crisis. We have started supplying into these providers and hope to develop more of this going forward in both the UK and abroad. We have launched our own site www.dingleydellcured.co.uk, supplying our charcuterie direct to the consumer. This has started well and has been a long held ambition of ours in order to get closer to the end consumer.

The simplicity of today’s technology allows us to have a retail website, which is secure and user friendly, not particularly expensive and totally off the shelf. This would have been a lot more difficult a few years ago. Somehow or other we have got to work out how we have a physical presence to this to underpin the online one – it maybe to have some form of ‘pop up’, although this is quite difficult to do with the current constraints.

I have spent a lot of time talking to people in hospitality and, whilst clearly the way things operate will return to where they were, there will scope for some interesting developments around other sources of income for traditional restaurant businesses, be it takeaway, retail, online or all of the aforementioned.

With home cooking having an obvious resurgence, will the opportunity for producers such as ourselves be to provide a specialised product direct to the home, which may be eaten on a weekend, rather than what may have been another out of home eating experience.

There’s a lot for us to consider around this subject and, fortunately, our presence in food service has allowed us to have the conversations in other areas.

On the breeding side, we have had some excellent news in that Defra have approved our nucleus and multiplication breeding programme and we are now listed on their website as a breeding company alongside the other somewhat bigger companies.

We have registered our higher marbled pure Durocs as the Suffolk Red, so we now have our own breed (pictured). In the future, we aim to look at whether or not we could have a market for these with other farmers or brands who wish to increase the amount of marbling in their pork.

Running this programme on farm has been both really interesting and sometimes challenging, and I would like to thank both Caroline Mitchell and JSR for their ongoing help and assistance with it. It’s amazing how quickly change can be affected in terms of marbling by placing high selection pressure on it over several generations.

We are often asked how far we aim to take this and what is the target for marbling? The answer is we don’t know – we are on a journey and tomorrow, we can always do it better.

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