Fighting the industry’s corner on many fronts

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies sets out how the NPA has been working to help producers at this difficult time for the pig sector.

We always knew that the start of 2021 was going to be a busy and critical time but I’m not sure anyone could have really prepared us for what was to come.

All I can say is I am incredibly proud of my staff and all those members who stepped up, talking to media and keeping us informed despite everything else that has been going on. Things may still look pretty bleak for many, but I honestly feel that we have achieved some really positive things in the last couple of months that will undoubtedly help us turn a corner.

After December’s failed COVID forum meetings, and with the situation steadily deteriorating in the industry, we knew that something drastic was needed in order to make people sit up and listen.

We had to grab the attention of the mainstream media – which is far easier said than done!  Hungry to pick up on anything Brexit related however, we were able to tweak media interest with tales of exporting woe, and in some cases examples of downright ridiculous behaviour by EU customs officials.

But we needed to expand the messaging to explain the whole situation that pig producers were experiencing and once we started gaining traction, the flood gates opened.

Journalists just couldn’t believe all the things that pig farmers were having to deal with and the dire situation it has created and they couldn’t get enough of it, which worked very well in our favour. Shortly after the news started picking up, we wrote to George Eustice and asked for the roundtable which I’d been wibbling on about for some time before Christmas.

Within a week we’d had a response and we had our opportunity – Minister Prentis had agreed to hold a cross industry roundtable to try to help us find some solutions. Prior to the event, there was plenty of preparation to try to ensure that the right people were invited and the Minister was well briefed and primed to try and find some answers.

To our surprise on the day, both George Eustice and Victoria Prentis were present, which is almost unheard of, and both were spot on in terms of their understanding of the issues. We knew there would be no silver bullet to the issue, but that isn’t what I was after – I wanted Ministerial oversight, scrutiny and some straight answers.

In addition to a real sense that Ministers wanted to help us find solutions, retailers also committed their support, confirming that demand for British pork in particular was very strong and saying, ‘if you give us the product, we will sell it’.

Morrisons has been true to their word too by since committing to a 10-week promotion on British pork, which will be funded by the retailer, not a drop in the pig price.

I understand that this news has sparked other retailers to show an interest, although sadly they appear unwilling to bear the cost within their own businesses and instead have come looking for bargain basement pork prices, which quite honestly totally misses the point! Ministers are keen to remain involved in this too so we will continue discussions behind closed doors.

The second part of our plan is to work on the excellent media coverage that we have stimulated by repeating messaging about supporting British to consumers, which is why we have decided to run another banner campaign.

Whilst relatively low cost, these banners, if properly maintained and well positioned have great potential to reinforce the message and hopefully make it sink in. If we can stimulate more demand, I am sure the product to fill the shelves will be found. We will need to ensure that a sensible price is paid to producers for it too however… So please do get involved if you are able!

Finally, now the elections have come to a close, we have a brand-new Pig Industry Group to help steer our direction for the next three years. I want to take this opportunity though to thank all those who stood for election, those who stood down and most importantly to Richard Lister and Richard Longthorp.

Two industry legends who shouldn’t for one moment think I’m going to let wander off back to their businesses and not continue to hassle mercilessly for support and information…They will be greatly missed.

 You can find this article, and many others in the March edition of Pig World.

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