FRANCE - 'Keeping the Poultry Business Profitable with European Standards' is the theme of the annual General Assembly of the European Poultry Producers and Exporters Association, avec, held this week. Jackie Linden reports from the meeting in Marseille.
The way of life in France may seem relaxed and the weather in Provence in early October may be mild and sunny but the European poultry sector faces considerable challenges to survive while maintaining its standards in the face of strong competition from other countries.
This year's General Assembly of avec - the 57th - is hosted by the French organisations, FIA and CIDEF, which no doubt chose the theme to attract the attention of participants from the European poultry meat sector. And with a record of more than 230 delegates, they have achieved some success before the meeting started.
Today's meeting opened with a welcome address by the outgoing avec President, Federico Felix of Spain, who continued with a presentation of the 2014 avec annual report.
Background on EU regulations
The EU standards for the food chain were reviewed by Koen Van Dyck, who is Head of Food Alert System and Training in DG Health and Food Safety.
He outlined the poultry market in the EU, current and coming regulations on origin labelling, veterinary medicines, feed, animal welfare and food hygiene. The current state of play on trade discussions rounded off his talk.
Consumer trends in Europe
Retail business as well as food and consumer trends in meat consumption in the EU were covered by Jean-Jacques Vandenheede, who is Director of retail insights for ACNielsen Europe.
He highlighted how consumer perceptions can differ widely from reality, using data from a consumer survey on the general economic situation in the Community.
In his analysis, he showed - not for the first time - that the factor most correlated with purchases of consumer goods by EU citizens is the price; when the price goes up, the volume purchased trends downwards. Economic factors and fears of unemployment, for example, are very poorly correlated with spending.
Mr Vandenheede also showed using his data that shopping trends are not changing nearly as fast or as dramatically as many people suppose. For example, discount chains are not taking over the retail scene although they have been taking market share away from small retailers except where the latter offer shopping opportunities very close to people's homes.
Another fallacy he highlighted is the reported dramatic growth in e-commerce. It is true that many consumers use this route to make some of their purchases but the great majority still go to their favourite supermarket and other stores for the great majority of their shopping.
"E-commerce still only accounts for six per cent of all retail purchases," he said.
These patterns are very similar across European countries, he added.
Consumers continue to seek out value-for-money rather than low prices in the EU, according to Mr Vandenheede.
He added that two trends that may be significant to the poultry industry are firstly the growing battle between retailers over banners and second, the dramatic rise in digital connections.
With mobile technology set to overtake fixed internet access this year, he stressed the vital importance for the poultry sector engaging with this sector to open up transparency and gain their trust.
Sustainability in the Quick Service sector
The following presentations from McDonald's changed the direction of discussion.
Willy Brette, vice president of purchase, quality and logistics for France and southern Europe outlined the company's policy towards sustainability generally, while Keith Kenny described McDonald's drive to source sustainable chicken for McDonald's Europe. Mr Kenny is the Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility for the company in Europe.
Competitiveness in the EU poultry meat sector
Differences among EU member states and between the Community and other poultry meat-producing countries have been explored in previous reports commissioned by avec.
Peter van Horne of the agricultural economics unit (LEI) and Wageningen University presented some of his previous findings to the General Assembly, and provided updates on several aspects as well as likely scenarios in the event of a reduction in import tariffs and/or a change in exchange rates.
The burden of additional regulations on the environment, animal welfare and food safety add between five and eight per cent to the cost of producing broilers in the EU, he showed.
Import tariffs have kept poultry meat imports into the EU steady since around 2007 but Mr van Horne's calculations showed that the scenarios he investigated would put the EU poultry sector at much increased risk of meat imports from almost all potential exporters.
Mr van Horne received some support from the audience for his suggestion that future trade should be fair rather than free.
Differentiation of the EU broiler market
The Business Director of Hubbard for northern Europe, South Africa and Israel, Paul van Boekholt, presented his view on the differentiation of the broiler market in Europe.
Broadly speaking, there are three markets in each country, he explained: for a standard broiler reared indoors to around 35 days; a similar bird grown more slowly and at lower stocking density to reach market weight at around 56 days and thirdly, one that may have access to free range marketed at 80 or more days of age.
He showed how and why diversity has been achieved, driven largely by the different priorities of consumers in the member states.
Mr van Boekholt stressed that all these systems can be successful but poultry producers need to be sure to plan carefully and make the right choices on genetics and feeding, for example, before they start.
"Make sure you do it right," he said. "Don't take short cuts."
View of a new MEP
The final presentation of the meeting was given by Jean Arthuis, who has recently been elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).
Brought up in a family of poultry traders, he has made a career in politics and now represents a three strongly agricultural regions of France in the European Parliament.
He expressed the opinion that the EU has not gone far enough in creating a single market and that the tax, labour, environment and health laws should be harmonised before discussions with other potential partners on trade.
The 57th General Assembly closed with the announcement that Paul Lopez of France will be the avec's President for the next two years.
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