The British industry has been forced to shift its focus as retailers and processors protected fresh pork's share
It has been a shattering 12 months for anyone in the British pig meat sector.
With the much documented declining herd, rising costs and increases in cheap imports, the industry has been left reeling and the bacon sector has been hit hard, with processors and producers surrending the middle ground to their foreign competitors.
Chris Lukehurst, pigmeat marketing manager with the Meat and Livestock Commission, says: "Eighteen months ago about 65% of the market would have been British, now our feeling is that it's probably only around 25%."
Certainly a shocking statistic for anyone in the bacon industry. Effectively, Lukehurst says, the British producers have been forced to give up the battle in the standard and economy sector.
"We've managed to maintain our share in the premium sector and that is where we need to hold our ground.
"When the pig numbers come back up we'll be looking to take some of that share back, and it's always easier to move down from the premium sector than up from economy."
The UK's number two processor Roach Foods, which says British bacon probably only represents 10% of its business, also points to the sheer lack of product.
Managing director Mark Forbes says there "isn't enough of it there". He adds: "Most loins are going into fresh pork and there isn't enough left over for bacon. If we were fully reliant on the British bacon market, we would be in real trouble."
It is certainly true the fresh pork sector has become the focus for the pig meat industry.
Lukehurst says: "Retailers and processors have managed to maintain a dominant position in fresh pork and with pig numbers coming down the way they are, something had to give. It's given on bacon."
This is in spite of the fact that bacon is a bigger market both in volume and value terms than fresh pork, but he says the fresh market is more important. "The reason we'll defend fresh pork over bacon is to maintain our 90% to 100% share. It's more important to us because we've never had that position before and if we lose that we're unlikely to get it back.
"In the long term, on the bacon front, we would like to take our share back, but we can only do that when pig numbers come back up. At the moment, we need to deal with what we've got and hold our ground where we can, and the best place to do that is in the premium sector."
Bacon's market share regularly fluctuates, he says, and if pig numbers come back up, it will be easier to win back share in that sector. Shaun Roach, head of marketing at Roach Foods, agrees the British trend to premium makes sense. "With farm sizes smaller in the UK, and with currency and costs issues, it has been more sensible for UK product to be concentrated in the more added value, premium end of the market."
One way to maintain the premium market is through research and new product development and that is certainly something Roach and other British companies are investing in, but so are their competitors.
But are pig numbers likely to come back up? Current predictions by German agricultural economists ZMP show a further drop in the British pig herd production of 12%.
So what does actually lie ahead for the beleaguered British industry? Graham Roach, owner of Roach Foods, says: "Is there a future? We'll have to say yes, there is. The industry will continue to contract and people like us will continue to shrink and contract with it. We'll end up with one or two major players and many smaller niche operators."
However, Lukehurst remains optimistic about the industry's future: "Some of the things suppressing the pig herd will change, and we need to manage what we've got so we're in a strong position to take advantage of it."