Differentiation Key To Pork’s Future, Conference Told

“I think there’s a future but it’s not in mass production.”

– TED BILYEA

The Canadian pork industry of the future may be a lot smaller and far more specific to customers’ needs.

Differentiation will be central to pork’s marketing success once the industry recovers from its worst economic crisis in recent history, producers attending the recent Manitoba Swine Seminar heard.

Canada can no longer rely on a mass marketing approach to sell its pork at home and abroad, Ted Bilyea, an agri-food consultant, told the conference.

Instead, the industry must give people compelling reasons to eat Canadian pork, he said.

“We have to figure out how to make sure that we are clearly understood as different in what we produce without raising our costs of doing it,” Bilyea said later to reporters.

“We’re not going to supply mass markets anywhere in the world. We don’t have that kind of production capability. We’re ideally set up to supply very specific niche markets.

“I think there’s a future, but it’s not in mass production.”

Canada already has a solid “platform” for building pork markets on a “highly differentiated base,” Bilyea, a former executive vice-president of Maple Leaf Foods, said.

Most producers participate in CQA (Canadian Quality Assurance), an on-farm program using internationally recognized practices to reduce or eliminate food safety hazards.

Canada is well ahead of the United States in developing a national traceability system for pigs and pork.

But Canada still has to improve pork quality and its health and safety image, according to Bilyea. He said 67 per cent of customers who purchased Canadian pork expressed dissatisfaction with their suppliers.

Bilyea suggested a grading system as one way to improve quality and consistency while providing a “speed bump” for imports, which have increased significantly in recent years.

Jurgen Preugschas, Canadian Pork Council president, agreed grading could benefit pork as it has done for beef. Packers and processors could use imaging technology to differentiate pork for qualities such as marbling, leanness and colour.

But first producers need to climb out of a deep financial hole into which they have fallen over the last three years, said Preugschas, a producer from Mayerthorpe, Alberta.

Hog prices adjusted for inflation are the lowest in 25 years. Agricultural input prices, propelled by the escalating costs of oil and corn, have taken a sharp upward spike in recent years. American country-of-origin labelling (COOL) legislation severely hampers live swine exports to the U. S. A strong Canadian dollar further disadvantages exports.

But retail pork prices have not fallen in tandem with hog prices. Speakers at the swine seminar said pork chops cost an average $2.90 a pound in 1982, nearly half what they cost today.

A major rationalization currently underway expects to lower the number of hogs in Canada from a recent peak of 31 million to 25.5 million by 2014, Preugschas said.

The industry also plans to drastically reduce live swine exports from nearly 10 million animals annually to four million.

But the domestic industry will remain fairly stable. Preugschas said the industry aims to increase domestic pork consumption while significantly reducing its reliance on the U. S. for live exports. [email protected]

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