Animal medicines, pig in mud

A storm is brewing in the world of pigs.

No, not more fierce debate over ketchup vs brown sauce in a bacon sarnie. Arguably a more serious situation is looming, an ’antibiotic apocalypse’ no less, courtesy of the emergence of the MCR-1 gene, which makes humans and animals resistant to antibiotics. First believed to have been discovered in pigs in China, and now spreading across 17 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, the prospect of the human race being wiped out is almost – almost – enough to put you off your bacon sandwich. So are we all doomed? Or can research being done by the meat industry into MCR save us all?

It’s just one of the issues under examination in this weekend’s Meat, Fish and Poultry special issue. And Tulip boss Chris Thomas will be hoping everything turns out OK. As boss of the Danish bacon-giant he, more than most, has already had a bellyful over bacon recently. He knows most Brits love it, but last October the WHO claimed it can cause cancer, which has proved off-putting for some. And there are still some naysayers out there who believe bacon isn’t healthy. Both are questionable claims, but overall sales of bacon (and bangers) are falling. It’s up to Thomas to do something about it. He tells us how.

Tasty as they are, we haven’t just focused on pigs. As an adventurous eater you have probably started snacking on sushi at lunchtime. Sales are soaring. Sushi bars are popping up in Waitrose and Morrisons, while Dave Lewis axed 30% of Tesco’s sandwiches to make way for more sushi. So does the rise of the California roll spell curtains for the cheese and pickle? Or is it way too soon to say sayonara to sandwiches?

Especially as sandwich fillings are also evolving. Go back a few years and adventurous ham fans reached for the ‘honey roast’ variety. But this is post-Man vs Food 2016, so cooked meats have undergone a revolution. Today the fastest sellers are given full-on flavours and a lick of flame, like Kerry Foods’ ‘BBQ Smoked Fire Grilled Shaved Chicken’. Yet unlike Brits, manufacturers have more to worry about than moody clouds gathering overhead when it comes to firing up the BBQ. So how are they doing it on a large scale on the factory floor? How do they make it taste authentic? And do they knock back a jug of Pimm’s while they do it?

Back in retail, what have the discounters got to do with the price of fish? Quite a lot, as it happens. Fresh fish was always a missing piece of the piscine puzzle at the discounters, so Aldi and Lidl have started selling fresh fish like Billingsgate veterans. And they are having a big impact on the market, both in terms of market share and the price of fish itself. So what have they got planned next where fresh fish is concerned? And will it hook more customers away from the supermarkets?

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in retail, Morrisons was an early UK adopter of the concept of vertical integration in supermarkets. It cited its model as one of the reasons it was protected from the ravages of Horsegate, but analysts have started to point to it as a reason for Morrisons’ woes. Yet Asda has also embraced it, recently taking full ownership of meat producers Forza and Kober. So does vertical integration still stack up? Or is it looking wobbly?

Either way, the concept continues to provoke debate, though not as much as eggs. ‘Which came first’ is an existential, tautological and philosophical question that will never die. It’s right up there with ketchup vs brown sauce. But with eggs currently smashing sales records, why is the NPD-obsessed fmcg industry leaving them well alone?

It’s a poser. And the answer, and the answer to lots of other questions besides, is revealed in this weekend’s Meat Fish and Poultry special issue of The Grocer.