Increased slaughterings and carcase weights, volatile prices and supermarket price wars had all contributed to low pig prices, while reports expressing concerns over processed meats had driven down consumer demand for sausages and bacon.
But with European pig numbers set to decline, consumer interest in pork products returning, and the UK premium over EU pork starting to narrow, the signs were that trade had bottomed out and the industry was starting to bounce back.
Phil Woodall, general manager of Thames Valley Cambac, said despite a small increase in the UK pig herd at the start of the year, numbers were predicted to fall soon.
“After two years of decline in the industry, we think there are up to 20,000 sows either gone or committed to going,” he told delegates at the Pig and Poultry Fair.
“We think that will have an impact in the third and fourth quarters of the year. EU production has also been reducing, with Denmark and Holland losing 100,000 sows.”
Woodall said the price gap between UK and EU imports was closing, which should also help UK producers drive exports.
“Last year the gap reached 30p/kg at one point and it never fell below 19p/kg. That gap is now 12-13p/kg and is closing further,” he said.
Weaker sterling had helped UK exports, with export volume in the last 12 months up 31.5 per cent.
He said the industry needed to think more carefully about alternative markets and ways to add value to their produce.
“The industry must develop products that are relevant for the consumer,” he said.
“There is a big focus on convenience, out-of-house eating and snacking which the industry needs to respond to.”