PIG & POULTRY FAIR: Opportunities and Challenges for British Products in the Food Service Sector

UK - British pork, chicken and eggs are enjoying growing demand from food service, a sector whose potential is often overlooked. However, it was the subject of the headline debate at the British Pig & Poultry Fair last week, reports senior editor, Jackie Linden.
calendar icon 21 May 2012
clock icon 6 minute read

Food service represents exciting opportunities for farmers and other involved in the poultry and pig sectors, said session chairman, Peter Kendall in his opening remarks, adding that 43p of every £ is now spent on food and drink outside the home. Mr Kendall is President of the National Farmers Union, and he said his organisation has engaged with the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics – London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, LOCOG – that only British chicken will be served at official food outlets at the Olympics sites.

This is a good example of the successes, he said, but there are still many challenges. Among these are that in these tough economic times, public organisations are under as much pressure as consumers to make their budgets go further.

View of the Speciality Butcher

Robust specifications, product consistency in terms of quality and supply and chain integrity are key for Mark Staton, Head of Sales at Prime Meats. His company – part of the Brakes Food, which has an annual turnover of £2.6 billion – is one of the top three meat distribution businesses in the country and it has stayed loyal to UK producers and processors since it was founded in 2004. With an annual turnover of £80 million, bacon takes the largest share of sales (27 per cent), followed by beef with 23 per cent and poultry meat more than 20 per cent.

Transparency with suppliers is important to Prime Meats, said Mr Staton.

He sees the greatest challenges as security of supply and keeping pig and poultry meat on the market. Keeping ahead of changes in consumer behaviour in terms of the many options for eating out is important, as is the current trend for seeking out food they would not cook at home, such as suckling pig and guinea fowl. Stressing the compliance of UK producers to higher welfare standards has been crucial. Finally, Mr Staton stressed the value his company puts on seeking out genuine innovators.

Perspective from the Pig Processor

For the last year or two, Tulip has been experiencing flat meat sales as the lacklustre economy has caused consumers to trade down in their food purchasing and to eat out less often and//or less extravagantly, according to the company;s Agriculture Director, Andrew Saunders. Tulip is the biggest pig meat processor in the UK, with an annual turnover of £1.3 billion, split fairly equally between retail, food service and wholesale.

Voucher schemes and promotions have become key for both retailers and food outlets, nd their main focus has been on cost than innovation, he said. There has also been an increase in the use of electronic tendering for supply contracts, which much reduce the opportunities for suppliers to engage with the companies over quality or other issues.

In the coming year, Mr Saunders sees an increase in new companies entering the UK market, and growing markets for breakfast products and fresh sandwiches – opportunities that could be taken up by the poultry and pig meat sectors. Despite the economic difficulties, he also expects that some in the food service sector will switch to products with higher welfare specifications, such as Freedom Foods or outdoor-bred pork.

As challenges in the medium term. he cited salt reduction, the use of desinewed meat (DSM) and its labelling and strong pressure on the trim market.

As a result of these economic pressures and trading conditions, Mr Saunders suggested it will become more difficult to sell British products, especially where it is hard to communicate their benefits.

Great British Food for Great British Kids

Karen McQuade, who founded The UK Foodhall in 2007, presented an inspiring success story for British products sold into schools. Her organisation, founded only in 2007, has become the No. 1 supplier to the nation’s schools, for which she and her company have received many awards.

The organisation now supplies 12,000 schools in 72 local authority areas and sales are up around 30 per cent per year. Poultry, fresh meat, fish and vegetables are supplied, with chicken breast fillets and sausages among the most popular items. The company supplied 470,000 sausages daily!

The original concept, still adhered to, is for the company to source products that cannot be found on the offering from importers.

As a result, they need to innovate constantly and so they are always seeking suppliers who also keen to develop new ideas and products, without neglecting consistency of supply and the highest food safety standards.

All Foodhall’s products are Red Tractor assured – and there has been recent growth in products meeting Freedom Food standards. Because the children are given weekly menus to take home, these messages of British quality gain a wider audience and are stimulating debate among parents.

In fact, when pitching for new business, UK Foodhall begins by explaining to the potential customer what the Red Tractor quality assurance scheme really means before there is any discussion on the products on offer.

Ms McQuade accepted that one of her biggest challenges in the year ahead is to keep British products on school menus as local authority budgets are being squeezed. However, this can be turned into an opportunity; she stressed the importance of thorough knowledge of the market – a key for success as most imported food has been produced with retailers in mind rather than food service.

In the question–and–answer session that followed, all the participants mentioned the benefits of ‘personalising’ products. Identifying the source farm has been initiated by UK Foodhall, and Mr Kendall cited the example of QR bars on retail foods so shoppers can find out more about their origin, which Mr Saunders said was now being trialled by his company.

This level of transparency is a vital part of creating trust between food producers and the wider public. The Open Farm Sunday scheme, in which farmers open their farms to the public on one day a year – coming up on 17 June this year – has contributed much to the greater openness and improved relationships between farmers and the public.

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