The UK pork supply chain: pulling together for consistency and quality

UK - In my first article (February 27th) I examined the mini revolution unfolding in the countryside and gave two examples of thriving food businesses whose owner/managers are enjoying their new roles as price makers rather than price takers.
calendar icon 29 March 2006
clock icon 5 minute read
JSR Genetics

Their success is due to a growing army of consumers who are prepared to pay more for food that has been grown locally and in many cases extensively. Indeed, some consumers when questioned believed that there was a direct relationship between price, safety and quality; the more they paid the better and safer the eating experience.

Such examples, however, represent a small proportion of food sales. The other 95% of us operate in tough competitive supply chains where price is the key. Today, we don't just have to be competitive in the UK, we have to compete globally. The major retailers have global sourcing strategies that direct processors to parts of the world that can provide the same quality, though perhaps not the same welfare standards, for lower cost. These products are then imported to the UK, clocking up thousands of food miles - all to provide price conscious consumers with the value they demand. Actually this isn't strictly correct; competition between the supermarkets causes price deflation. Consumers are prepared to pay more, providing they are not able to buy cheaper elsewhere. This became apparent during food scares such as BSE, with chicken and pork benefiting. We will see it again if Avian Influenza lands on our shores. The media hysteria following the first fowl fatality will be disproportionate to the risk, causing consumers to switch to food they deem safer. Not that food scares are a way to improve our returns, far from it; they damage all food production, perhaps with the exception of organic which in being more expensive is seen as safer.

The global sourcing model will service the value end of the market; a market, UK producers should not bet their future on. We are disadvantaged competitively, with the gap between the UK and say Brazil or Chile so large as to be insurmountable. It is not enough to wait for the inevitable health/disease breakdown to shut down a global supply chain overnight. We must seek our own goals.

The farm shop examples give us the steer we need. The UK should focus on the premium end of the market, primarily through integrated supply chains. This means the end of the freedom loving individualist and organisations that don't add value to the supply chain. The relationship network is crucial to the success of farm businesses today - it is the new capital! Communication, management abilities and fairness will supplant simple shrewdness and working with others will replace going it alone.

Product traceability, strong quality orientation and a focus on the profitability of the whole production chain are competitive advantages against globally traded commodities. This means food with a story to tell that gives an excellent eating experience - every time.

Consistent quality is the key to consumer loyalty. It is widely recognised that nothing touches the consistency of Birds Eye peas. This is because Birds Eye work in partnership with the supply chain right back to selecting the right breed/variety of pea. Rigorous attention to detail pervades every stage of the supply chain. Short cuts or compromises are shunned. The result is that Birds Eye peas command a substantial premium in the market place.

This obsession with quality and attention to detail throughout the supply chain are key aims for the UK pork chain and can only be achieved by all parts of the supply chain working together and sharing the value. This demands transparency and sharing confidential information in an environment of trust - not easy for an industry so used to mistrust. Wherever possible, the integrated supply chain should be based on same genetics, same feed and same production system. Without these three pillars it is difficult to build consistency.

The whole chain should be documented in a blue print and rigorously audited with the guiding principle being 'Is it adding value to the consumer?' Quality Assurance Schemes have got a bad name because, ignoring the consumer, they focus instead on regulation that is out of all proportion to the risk. This is not the role of an audit in an integrated supply chain.

The Cranswick Tendalean programme is an award winning integrated supply chain supplying Sainsbury's with consistent high quality pork products from JSR Tendalean boars and Gold x sows. The demand for Tendalean pork is exceeding expectations but Cranswick recognise that unless the product is continuously improved they run the risk of being caught by their competitors. All partners in this supply chain must work together to cut out variables that may affect the consistency. One sure thing is that any competition based on quality and consistency is likely to come from a UK based integrated supply chain, rather than a globally sourced supply chain.

T S Rymer is Chairman of JSR Genetics

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