Pork consumers are eating more ready meals and snacks and taking less time to prepare meals from scratch, Phil Woodhall, Thames Valley Cambac, told attendees at the British Pig & Poultry Fair, held May 10-11 at the National Agricultural Exhibition Centre at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire.

Woodhall was one of several speakers at the event. Also speaking to pig producers was Meryl Ward of AHDB Pork, while Cargill’s Chris Hall and Tom Willings, formerly of Noble Foods, presented views on the poultry and egg sectors.

Sales of fresh and processed pig meat products like sausages had declined, Woodhall said, and more needed to be done to produce innovative products.

“Savory snacks are where the future is,” he said.

Pig prices and trade

Pig prices had slumped over the past couple of years, as slaughterings and carcass weights both increased, Woodhall added. However, UK and EU production was now likely to ease, the UK premium over EU pork had narrowed, and consumption was tracking back up.

Exports of pig meat had also recovered to near the high levels of the late 1990s, said Ward. “In 2016 exports will be worth GBP390 million and there is a lot of strategic work going on to open up new markets.”

With exports so important to the sector, retaining disease-free status and having solid contingency plans in place was vitally important, she added.

Improve business through innovation in nutrition, technology

In the afternoon sessions, producers heard how to make marginal gains in productivity and profitability through small changes. ABN explored how producers could benefit from innovation in nutrition, while a range of farmers and industry experts discussed how technology, performance recording and everyday attention to detail was helping them to improve their own businesses.

Egg prices down – for now

In the egg sector, retailer price wars had slashed the price of six eggs from GBP1.40 two years ago to just 79p now, said Willings. “At the same time volume sales have grown at an unprecedented rate – but we are bleeding value.”

There was still huge opportunity for growth in sales, but he forecast a period of oversupply in the medium term. “I suspect there are tougher times ahead – and I do worry about what will happen when the cost of feed increases.”

As demand increasingly moved away from colony and barn eggs to free-range systems, the industry would have to find a way to structurally change in a measured manner to avoid oversupply, he added. However, on a more positive note, consumer demand for healthy, high protein, convenient food placed eggs and poultry meat in a very strong position.

Poultry meat sales up

In the poultry market, volume sales had increased by 5.2 percent over the past year, but in price terms the total spend was only 1.5 percent up, said Hall. Duck was outperforming both chicken and turkey, with a 45 percent increase in volume sales and a 37 percent rise in value.

“That is really being driven by a huge amount of innovation – duck is leading the way,” Hall said.