The received wisdom among many suppliers today is that to face up effectively to growing retailer power, you must become bigger.
In bacon this trend towards expansion has been pronounced, with the number of players in the market shrinking every year as more are swallowed up in mergers and acquisitions.
In Holland, for example, a merger of the number one and two bacon producers - Dumeco and Hendrix - has created Vion, a giant which produces two thirds of the bacon that comes out of the Netherlands.
But what about the smaller Dutch producers remaining? How do they make sure they don’t get sucked under the wheels of the juggernaut?
Leo Persoon runs Persoon, a Dutch bacon manufacturer supplying Asda and Morrisons. He is confident his company will maintain its relevance in the market because it offers a distinct point of difference.
“We produce in a week what Vion produces in a day. But we can do shorter runs than they can and focus on the niches in the market.”
Those short-run niches include specialist cures such as a pepper cure, listed in Asda.
Another smaller operator is Direct
Table Foods, the Tican-owned bacon producer that operates in the shadow of its much, much bigger compatriot, Danish Crown’s Tulip.
Sales director Richard Hawkins says: “As a smaller producer, we have to focus particularly on quality. We use traditional methods along with the most modern equipment.” A year ago Direct Table Foods’ factory at Bury St Edmunds burnt down. A new £10m plant will be on stream in April, presenting the company with an opportunity to fulfil its commitment to quality and state-of-the-art technology.
While Direct Table Foods and Persoon are operating predominantly in own label, a tiny group of smaller producers are carving out niches with specialist branded products.
George Streatfeild, Denhay Farms owner, says: “Small British producers have to innovate not just with their products, but also with their processes. We invested in a friction smoker that creates a more even smoke flavour.”
Another, Helen Browning, owner of the eponymous organic bacon brand, argues that smaller producers can succeed by creating a distinct identity for their product.
“Organic bacon is still a small part of the market, but generally it sells best under a brand,” she says. “Organic shoppers like to have the story behind the product, which we can give them.”