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Even a small rise would make a huge difference

India often tends to be 
overlooked in the world’s pig developments. The country, however, harbours a huge market and a lot of potential. In India, pork simply has never really had a good name – but what if that was about to change?

By Vincent ter Beek

The shop in the picture to your right might not look very special at first glance. But take another look and pay some special attention to the letters above 'Shiva Farms'. The picture was taken in Mumbai, India. And what's more, the shop is selling produce like e.g. sausages, ham and salami.

India has never been much of a pork-loving nation – and especially for that reason it is interesting to dive a little deeper into 'Shiva Farm Products'. On its website, the Mumbai-headquartered company mentions that its was established in the early 1990s as a family enterprise, and started off as a retailer of frozen food products. Nowadays, the company has evolved into multiple businesses like manufacturing, trading, distribution and retailing.

The website goes on to explain that in India SFP nowadays is being regarded as one of the leading manufacturers of quality frozen food products. "Our plant is built according to international food standards with state-of-the-art machinery. We manufacture and trade in more than a hundred quality food products."

Nutshell
The development of SFP describes in a nutshell the situation of pork in India. Similar to China, the country has 1.2 billion people but contrary to China, India hardly has a tradition in pork production or consumption. According to the 2012 Livestock Census, pigs take up just over 2% of the total livestock population in India, and the total number of pigs is just under 10.3 million. The lion's share of this apparent national disinterest can be explained by customs and tradition. For a long time the meat trade was controlled by muslims, who would simply not touch pork.

In addition, pork hasn't always been held in very high esteem in Indian society. Low caste Hindus have long seen an opportunity to use pigs to scavenge waste, which would bring the animals generally in places of low hygiene and diseases – far away from professionally produced pork. It is not difficult to envisage how upper castes, who would not buy from lower castes anyway, look at the quality and safety of the domestic pork products.

Add to this the absence of sufficient amounts of cost-efficient corn crops, a relatively poor infrastructure and the divine status of cows in India, and this explains the Indian predilection for mainly chicken, fish and vegetarian dishes.

Still, in a country with 1.2 billion souls, even a little increase in pork consumption would be a tremendous market. Just like in China, the country has a large and rapidly growing middle class – a strong growth in mid-range restaurants and organised supermarkets can therefore be observed. Although per capita pork consumption is still expected to be small for another decade, it is not difficult to see India's potential. Even at 0.5 kg per person per year, this could be a demand for at least 500,000 tonnes.

Marketing pork
Keeping the above in mind, there are two distinct market segments for pork in India. First – the non-Indian consumers. As it stands nowadays, quality pork can mainly be found in high end hotels as they would serve breakfast bacon. The US embassy in New Delhi recently estimated that there is an immediate demand for 150 tonnes of pork for the high end hotels. For these customers, companies like SFP might also be a solution. Often, these hotels prefer to rely on imports.

Secondly – there are options for growth by targeting the growing middle-class with branded high-quality pork. There are vast regions where pork doesn't need an introduction. A recent report by the German embassy in New Delhi pointed to three regions where pork is regularly on the menu (Figure 1).

North East India
Ethnically and culturally akin to South East Asia, this is one of the poorest regions. It records the highest pork consumption in the country – the state of Assam is India's number 1 state with 15.9% of all pigs (Figure 2). Many locals keep pigs, some pork is imported from Myanmar.

South India
Meat is popular in the south of India; particularly Goa is worth mentioning due to many Christians living there.

Kolkata (West Bengal)
Demand for pork comes from the city's immigrants as well as its Chinatown – the only one in India. This Chinatown has a population of about 7,000. The area ranks fifth with regard to pig numbers in India – about 6.3%.

For a large part of India not known for pork consumption, there are possibilities as well. In the words of Thom Wright, agricultural attaché for the US embassy in New Delhi, the majority of Hindus are willing to try quality pork, as long as it is imported.

Exporting to India
A solution for on one hand meeting pork demand – and creating a stronger demand on the other – would be to step up exports to India. In Europe, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain are known to export pork to India – and so does e.g. Chile (Table 1). The Netherlands, for instance, exported 36 tonnes of predominantly fresh, chilled or frozen pork to India in 2013.

Exporting pork nevertheless, has come with serious challenges over the years. Again the US embassy quoted industry sources stating that on exports from e.g. the United States, a '500% markup' can be expected due to taxes, tariffs, local VAT and a fragmented supply chain.

For fresh pork to enter India, several hurdles exist. Not only the slaughterhouses have to meet requirements, also the farms have to abide by certain rules. First, there is a range of hygiene measures as the country has to be free from e.g. Swine Vesicular Disease, African Swine Fever, Aujeszky's Disease (pseudorabies), Foot-and-Mouth Disease and vesicular stomatitis.
In addition, also the farm of origin has to prove it's been free of a range of diseases, including e.g. atrophic rhinitis, transmissible gastro-enteritis (TGE) and Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) for the past two years.
On top of that, the farm needs to show that it has not been using meat and bone meal or blood plasma.

Producing in India
Producing high-quality pork on Indian soil seems to be an option that eventually could pay off then, to reach the pork-hungry high end hotels as well as interested middle class consumers. So far, 150 meat processing plants are known to exist throughout India to deal with pork – all working on a small scale in the private sector.

To give the country's development a boost, the government proposed schemes to establish modern processing plants and in some states pig producers' cooperatives are emerging.

It seems like Mumbai-centered SFP has indeed chosen to follow this route as well. On its website, it says, "Our association with star rated hotels, multinational quick service restaurants and retail chains demonstrates the fact that innovation and ability to provide microbiologically safe and delicious products have been our strengths."

[Source: Pig Progress magazine Vol 30 nr 8, 2014]

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