What if we lose the British premium?

What if the British premium starts to erode? What should we be doing to combat current low prices, given there’s little sign of anything better on the horizon? Every day, writes Digby Scott, the NPA asks producers if the time has come to pull out all the stops and launch a new high-profile campaign urging processors, retailers and consumers to support British producers.

Up to now, the consensus view has been that we should keep our powder dry a bit longer. But recent sharp falls in the pig price are worrying and the time must fast be approaching when we need to ramp up our messaging to consumers and, if necessary, publicly hold processors and retailers to account.

The NPA’s current campaigning theme is “Keep It Up”, which has three strands: positive messaging to MPs; praise for retailers that have stuck to their 100% British fresh pork promise; and regular meetings between NPA and retailers to urge the others to do better.

But what if high street competition prompts retailers to start sourcing significantly more pork from Europe? What if the British premium starts to disappear, plunging producers further into the red? What action should we take then?

Our picture, above, features Wiltshire farmer Cameron Naughton, who got his pig onesie on again recently to support the NFU’s It’s time to back British Farming campaign

The NPA’s staff have pledged to give this a lot of thought and have asked all members to do likewise, because if a serious price crisis emerges, it wants to fight back.

Should we take a leaf out of French producers’ books and take our muckspreaders onto supermarket car parks, as we would have done in the old days? Or should we be thinking about targeting consumers with some friendly messaging about higher-welfare British pork?

Our problem, as ever, is that the NPA can promote British pork and pork products, but has no money. AHDB Pork, meanwhile, has money, but is prevented by state aid rules from promoting specifically British products.
However, we’ve found in the past that by working together, and playing to our own strengths, we’ve been able to make our presence felt in the marketplace, sometimes out of all proportion to the size of this small industry.And that’s what we may have to do again.

Meanwhile, pig and processor levy payers recently took the front cover of The Grocer to announce phase two of the successful Pulled Pork campaign. Phase one, that took place between May to June this year and involved extensive television advertising and processor and retailer support, was an outstanding marketing triumph, according to independent data.

Phase two will run in the New Year, probably February to March, when prices are often depressed as consumers pay off Christmas spending on their credit cards.

A significant concern highlighted by processors is the lack of support by foodservice for British pork, with many companies preferring just to buy the cheapest europork available.

The only way this will be resolved is by the drip-drip of constant messaging about the commercial advantages to restaurants, canteens and fast-food outlets of sourcing British.

The NPA has been engaged in this process this year through a series of media releases, and the next stage will be a YouGov survey that’ll seek to discover whether consumers rate restaurants that serve British meat more highly than those that don’t bother to say where their food comes from.

It’s hoped the results will show conclusively that consumers are more likely to support foodservice outlets that inform customers about the provenance of their pork. And if that’s the case, the NPA will be producing a number of releases on the subject, targeted at the foodservice trade press, and at consumers too.

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