Pigmeat imports flood UK : The bucket runneth over

Strak Report July 2001 - Twelve months ago Dr John Strak wrote about the rising tide of pigmeat imports into the UK in 1999. He called that Strak report "A half full bottle" because he wanted to put an optimistic slant on the future for UK pig farmers. A year later Dr Strak sees things differently.
calendar icon 11 July 2001
clock icon 6 minute read
Dr John Strak

Dr Strak's views on the UK and global pig markets are produced in Whole Hog every fortnight. For more details click the link at the foot of the article.

As I saw it twelve months ago, the increasing market share of foreign pigmeat in the UK market reflected domestic abattoirs' attempts to keep unit costs down as the UK herd shrank. And foreigners would need to defend these gains in the year 2000 which would give the domestic producer something to aim at.

However, I am writing this month's Strak report just as the latest pigmeat import figures become available. If it was a half full bottle in 1999 it's now clear that it was a rapidly filling bucket in the Millennium year - filling up with foreign imports.

UK imports of pigmeat from the EU have gone up again. They were up 19% in 1999 compared with 1998 - an increase to c. 220 thousand tonnes. But in 2000 they increased by more than 25% for the full year. The chart presents these data in graphic detail. In tonnage terms this represents a total import quantity of about 273 thousand tonnes. That's half a million tonnes of pigmeat sold in the UK market lost to competitors in just two years. And that's before FMD, PMWS and PDNS.

If you want to think about this loss of market share in terms of pig equivalents or pig farming units it's about 680,000 whole pig equivalents or the output from over three hundred average sized pig units in the UK.

UK Pigmeat Imports from the EU, 1998-2000
Metric Tonnes

Actually, the number of pigs (and pig farmers) displaced by imports is probably much greater than this because whole pig equivalents are not the most accurate way of estimating pigmeat imports. Still, it gives you a feel to what has been happening and illustrates why, on the ground, there are fewer and fewer pig farmers around in the UK.

Table 1:
% change in the volume of pigmeat imports
into the UK from the EU by country
Jan-Dec 1999/2000; % Change
France + 5.0
Belgium + 54.9
Netherlands + 17.5
Germany + 66.1
Irish Republic - 13.2
Denmark + 31.7
Total EU + 25.5
Source: EUROSTAT, www.porkinfo.com
As Table 1 shows, every one of Europe's major pig producers did their bit to help the growth in UK pigmeat imports in 2000. Imports from Denmark were up 32%; imports from the Netherlands were up 17.5%; German exports to UK were up 66%; Spanish exports up 41%; Irish exports up were up 13%; and imports from Belgium up 55%. But we did manage to restrict the growth in imports from France to just 5%. The three big players in all of this are the Danes , the Dutch and the Irish. So you can see which are the key figures in this list.

The Danish performance is staggering. The Danes are the largest single exporter to the UK with almost double the import penetration of their nearest rival, the Dutch. I wouldn't have expected them to reach double digit growth rates when they already have such a huge market share.

The Danish increase in exports now places them firmly at the top of the UK pigmeat import supply table with c. 104,000 tonnes in 2000. The Dutch are in second place with 53,000 tonnes and the Irish are third with 43,000 tonnes. Belgium, Germany and France supply an average of 22,500 tonnes each.

These different performances by our European competitors indicate that, when exchange rates can be ignored, other "marketing" factors are still important. The weakness of the euro has made imports of pigmeat into UK more likely in the last twelve months but its also true that some countries took greater advantage of this than others.

Table 2:
% Change in UK pigmeat volume imports by type
Jan-Dec 1999/2000; % Change
Fresh & chilled carcases and half-carcases.. +27.4%
Fresh & chilled hams, shoulders and cuts +46.9%
Other fresh and chilled pigmeat +13.4%
Frozen carcases and half-carcases -28.8%
Frozen hams, shoulders and cuts +20.0%
Bacon +4.6%
Prepared or preserved hams, shoulders and cuts +32.9%
Source: EUROSTAT, www.porkinfo.com
The type and cuts of pigmeat imported into the UK show differing growth rates as Table 2 shows. Total carcass imports rose by 7.1% but within this total amount there were important changes in the frozen and fresh categories. Imports of frozen carcasses and half carcasses fell by 29% and imports of fresh and chilled carcasses and half carcasses rose by 27%.

Foreign bacon imports increased by just 4.6% over the year but imports of prepared and preserved pigmeat (excluding bacon) were up by 33% to a new total of 5,050 tonnes. Finally, there was a significant jump in imports in an important category, fresh and chilled hams and shoulders. These imports were up 47% and exceeded 100,000 tonnes in the full year. The key providers of this extra product were the Danes and the Dutch.

Last July, when I wrote in Pig World I asked, what does all this mean - is the UK going to be overwhelmed with a tide of foreign imports? I had a positive outlook then and highlighted the contribution that imports could make to reducing processors' unit costs.

I also indicated that, if Denmark, the Netherlands and even dioxin-hit Belgium could improve their market growth in the UK the reverse must also be possible and UK producers should see the import surge as a half full bottle not a half empty one. This year, I am not so sure. The tide has got stronger and it is running against the UK pig industry.

The ability to market their way out of the problem seems to be beyond UK marketer and farmers - despite superhuman efforts by some individuals and companies. And on the cost side, unilateral measures have decreased our competitiveness and the exchange rate has been a millstone around every farmer's neck.

I am not sure where that leaves us - except looking at a bucket which seems set to overflow. Anyone got a pump?

See you next month.

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