Cutting Edge

The variety of cuts offered by pork give the meat versatility and it relative value for money means butchers and foodservice operators are looking more closely at how to position it. Keren Sall reports


Appeals for support for struggling UK pig farmers have seen independent butchers increase their pork sales. And animal welfare and provenance are areas where independent butchers can score highly with consumers, says John Kench, who runs a high-class butcher’s shop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. “My customers are always asking about where my meat comes from, how the animals are reared and slaughtered. Coming from a farming background, I am naturally interested in these issues, which all come back to traceability.”

John buys his pork from a local pig farmer, who rears them free-range, just five miles away from his shop, as he is opposed to intensive pig production – not just on animal welfare grounds, but also because he believes it produces an inferior product. Likewise, the pigs are slaughtered in a local slaughterhouse just five miles away. This position, John believes, gives him an edge when it comes to supplying local restaurants with pork. “I have all the paperwork to show them where it was produced locally and how, and they can use this knowledge to market their products.”

Outdoor rearing

Plantation Pigs set up by Hugh Norris in 1987 is proving popular with independent butchers and farm shops. Having worked in intensive pig production, Norris decided he wanted to do the opposite and produce quality pork from traditional breeds that are suited to outdoor rearing. “We use ginger and black-haired animals that can withstand the heat of a summer’s day and cold winter’s night.”

Norris is also keen to point out that organic farmers do not have a monopoly on humane animal production and that organic does not necessarily mean free-range. He uses a local, EC-approved abattoir, that is regularly monitored through spot checks by the Humane Slaughter Association for best-practice.

In keeping with his ethos for producing quality succulent pork, Norris’ pigs are fed a 95% GM-free diet. “We do the best we can, but certain amino acids may have been added, which we cannot guarantee come from GM-free sources.”

However, the question consumers and producers are likely to be forced to debate and answer is whether GM-free is a luxury they can afford, Norris believes. “People may have to reconsider what their standard is.”

Norris is producing free-range pork, as he believes the exercise that pigs get by moving around outdoors means the animals have high levels of intra-muscular fat, which gives quality pork with succulence. “My products are not a commodity. They are something to shout about and enjoy. People will ask questions specifically about our product.”

Pork position

As the Bank of England governor is predicting inflation will edge over 4%, UK consumers are already beginning to tighten their belts – and John Kench is already beginning to see that, as his affluent consumers are opting for cheaper cuts. “Prices on pork have gone up. You can absorb some of them, but the rest have to be passed on to consumers,” he says.

But the good news, according to Tony Goodger, BPEX foodservice trade manager is that as the price of proteins has increased pork has benefited from seeing its share of meat sales rise by 1.5% in the last 12 months. “The larger foodservice brands are increasing the amount of pork they have on the menu and it is proving popular,” he says, citing an example. “I was recently in a Chef & Brewer, which had three pork dishes on the menu, and so my guest tried to order the pork, only to find it all sold out because it was very popular with consumers.”

Goodger believes that the big foodservice chains are looking to see where they should position their pork. “Those who have laid pork at the top, as the main course, have seen the meat increase in popularity as a result,” he says.

He has noticed that chefs are also looking at the forequarter cuts, which in the past they would have ignored. “We believe this has changed because of our DVD on forequarters, which received a tremendous response from pubs and restaurants, and because the big brands are now considering it as a viable option, as meat prices are going up and they know they are getting value with pork.

This swing also means that catering butchers like John Kench are looking at their pork proposition. “In the past, they put a lot of effort into marketing their beef range with different cuts, and lamb with sourcing, such as Welsh lamb. But with pork, there was no description, types of cuts or anything. It wasn’t about changing their sourcing policy; all that was needed was for them to look at what they were buying and marketing it better,” says Goodger, citing an example of a catering butcher who has just done that. “He had Lakeham beef and Lakeham lamb on his product list, but he never put Lakeham pork on it. Now he also gives details about the farms he gets it from.”

Goodger also points out that it is worth laying out the pork page in logical order – so that it has the forequarter cut and highlights cuts from the middle, the leg and the bottom. “It means chefs get an appreciation of the different cuts and how they can be cooked,” he says. “Those who put that their pork is outdoor-reared find that their sales increase. Nothing has changed really, apart from the fact that they are giving a bit more information about the sourcing of their pork.”

His message to butchers is: “Promote pork, make sure it tells a good story to the chef, so they can rewrite their product list and are happy to market it.”

What can also help a catering butcher in a crowded competitive market is the use of the Quality Standard Mark. BPEX now has 11 catering butchers using it, eight up on last year. “We would like to double that figure over the next six months. That will be a real challenge for us,” says Goodger.

New carcase chart

Keith Fisher, BPEX butchery and product development manager, says BPEX is planning to produce a new carcase chart for butchers in the near future. “People like to have to them on the walls of their shop. We will not just be incorporating traditional cuts, but also new cuts, such as tendrons, daubes and belly blocks.” The sale of legs, loins and belly, he says, is not a problem, but the forequarter is, as it does have not value added to it. “With it, you have opportunities for a wider range of price ranges along with cuts. Our innovative cutting manual, which was produced last year, gives butchers ideas that they can pass down to consumers.”

BPEX has just produced summer posters and recipe leaflets. The poster shows a pork steak with herb and lemon butter, while the leaflet accompanying it has a very summery baked ham salad and pork terrine, as well as pork steaks. “Consumers are looking for value for money, variety and convenience from their pork offering, as well as something that is easy to cook and easy to handle and eats well in term of eating quality,” says Fisher. “That’s why we continually develop alternative cuts to meet demand. Pork is at the top now because it is a versatile carcase and the quality of pigs we have in this country lend themselves to a wide variety of cuts.”