The Headline Debate at this year's RASE/ABN British Pig and Poultry Fair 'Can we get consumers to buy more British pig and poultry products?' concluded that more could be done by the industry to encourage consumers to buy British out of choice, but that this would need financial support to fund an awareness campaign.
Chairing the debate, BBC presenter and farmer Adam Henson revealed, through a show of hands, that the audience unanimously agreed the industry is not doing enough to promote British products.
The scope to improve the allegiance to British products through better awareness was reflected in video footage of recent consumer visits organised by RASE and ABN to a broiler unit and an intensive pig unit. The groups of consumers were very encouraged with the welfare standards being met on these units and the appearance of the livestock, which dismissed many of the myths they held regarding British livestock production systems. A number thought, for example, broiler birds were reared in small cages and force fed – comments that 'astonished' poultry farmer host and panel member Jonty Hay.
Lack of recognition
Also alarming though, was the lack of recognition of the UK Red Tractor logo introduced more than 10 years ago. Consumers were unsure of the message given on the Red Tractor logo and how this related, along with other labelling details, to production systems and country of origin. Following their visits, consumers felt they would be more discerning regarding country of origin and look especially for the Red Tractor and Union Jack logo.
Bill Thurston, managing director of Vion and panel member commented that the consumer perceptions of production systems were 20 years out of date and there was a lack of trust on food labelling.
“This lack of understanding is something that needs addressing quickly,” said panel member Andrew Nicholson from the Co-op. “We need to inform consumers – the young and those with the cheque book.” He went on to tell the audience that consumers make their purchasing decisions in approximately three seconds so 'buy British' needs to be high on their list of priorities.
A second new initiative, led by Fair partners ABN, was the Innovation Award that set out to provide a unique opportunity for young people from both outside and within the industry to put forward exciting and innovative concepts for marketing British pig or poultry food products to the UK consumer.
Three finalists presented their concepts to judges, who included Peter Thornton, CEO Noble Foods and Andrew and Debbie Keeble from Debbie and Andrews sausages and The Grocer's fresh food editor Michael Barker.
The concepts included Harper Adam's student Tom Martindale's 'Sponsor a pig' initiative where interested consumers would have the opportunity to buy a pig and have an insight into its production prior to slaughter and Kerri Worrell's 'British Champion' loyalty card with points awarded for purchases of British pig and poultry products.
The winner of the ABN Innovation Award went to Alastair Butler from Halesworth in Suffolk for his proposal to balance the demand for pig carcasses through promoting pork shoulder as a home cooked hog roast.
“We have had a superb event, with the highest attendance figure in recent years of 9768 visitors,” says Alice Bell of the organisers, the Royal Agricultural Society of England, “Exhibitors have reported record numbers of enquiries from producers looking to improve and expand their businesses, which can only be good for the sector.”
The next British Pig and Poultry Fair will take place at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire in May 2012.