Competitive prices, efficient processes and strict animal welfare make Dutch pigmeat a favourite with UK retailers.
According to the Product Board for Livestock, Meat and Eggs, the UK is by far and away the largest export market for pigmeat and bacon, with 34% of all supply arriving on British soil last year.
Exports of bacon, in particular, have gone from strength to strength and this now accounts for about 70% of total meat exported to the UK. The Netherlands is also the biggest supplier of back bacon to these shores.
The Dutch have taken advantage of the declining UK pig herd. Robert Smith, UK MD for the Dutch Meat Board, says: “Bacon exports to the UK have seen consistent long-term growth and historically this was focused largely on the
foodservice sector. The growth in the past few years has been fuelled by the Dutch taking a stronger position in the retail sector as a result of working closely with UK trading partners in order to meet UK market demands.”
Processors export pig middles to UK slicers, who package it for retailers.
“The exporters have turned the industry around from a ‘farm to fork’ production-driven industry to a ‘fork to farm’ market-led sector which is mindful of the consumer,” says Smith.
But it has not all been plain sailing. For example, UK wholesale prices have not followed high Dutch pig prices and the bacon market has been deflationary for a long time. Last month prices soared in Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury, but Smith stresses that bacon remains good value.
While Dutch rivals have traditionally been the Danish and British, countries such as Poland and Hungary - as well as Brazil, the US and Canada once trade barriers are removed - are expected to make inroads into the UK.
Processors have responded to these issues by embarking on rationalisation strategies.
A year ago Dutch giant Bestmeat acquired the country’s second largest bacon producer, Hendrix. The deal gave it 60% of the Ducth pigmeat market as Bestmeat already owned Dumeco, the biggest supplier of bacon to the UK. The company has now been renamed Vion.
Smith believes The Netherlands’ investment in animal welfare will also help it combat new competition. The IKB, launched in 1992, is now the cornerstone of the Dutch Meat Board’s promotional activity and enables producers to provide guarantees on quality, origin and production methods - especially important to UK retailers.