Primary cuts lose their appeal as value-added sector surges

By Chloe Ryan

- Last updated on GMT

Value-added and convenience are driving the UK pork industry
Value-added and convenience are driving the UK pork industry
While primary cuts of pork are in long-term decline, consumer desire for value-added alternatives and convenient options continue to drive the sector forward.

There are clear peaks and troughs in pork sales. Slow cook and ready-to-cook products are growing substantially, because they’re easy and convenient to prepare. Premiumisation is a continuing trend, and pork specialist Tulip says its top tier products are in growth, especially bacon and sausages. Meanwhile, high-welfare and artisan-style products are in big demand.

But a rise in health-conscious consumers and changing eating habits, such as breakfast on the go, are presenting a challenge.

Volume sales of both bacon and sausages are up year-on-year (YOY), increasing by 1.5% and 2.3% respectively, according to Kantar Worldpanel (12 weeks to 17 June).

“Sales of pork sliced cooked meats were fairly stable in volume terms, but value increased by around 1.5% due to higher average prices,”​ says Bethan Wilkins, analyst at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board Pork.

“Primary pork, however, recorded a decline in sales, in both volume and value terms​,” she adds. “A 3.2% drop in sales volumes counteracted rising retail prices, meaning market value was still down 0.5% YOY.”

Significant factors in the decline include the rise in limited-meat diets and demand for convenience. Rather than cooking from scratch, the modern-day time-poor consumer is choosing quick and easy dinner options. Thankfully, processors are responding to the change.

Decline of the traditional Sunday roast

The fall in volume is also linked to the decline of the traditional Sunday roast. “However, the midweek meal occasion is rising,”​ says a spokeswoman for meat processor Cranswick. “Our opportunity here is to tap into smaller, more convenient roasting joint options, via new product development​ [NPD], which meet that need.”

Part of Cranswick’s strategy is to promote pork as one of the healthier meats and communicate its role in a balanced diet. “We know from shopper research by IGD that particularly younger shoppers are much more global in their outlook, tastes and flavours,”​ says group commercial director Jim Brisby.

“Increasingly, we are finding they are wanting and more willing to try new flavours, actively seeking out inspiration. There has been a growth explosion in categories such as added-value pork, up 10% YOY and slow cook, up 19% YOY, which perform well ahead of the total category.”

Prices are being driven higher by a number of factors. Firstly, rising input costs such as pig feed, largely made up of wheat and soya, are big factors. There has also been a shortage of UK pigs, which pushes up pack prices. One further factor is a greater number of shoppers buying into convenient, added-value options to save time in the home, which can be  10–20% more expensive than plain pork cuts.

This ongoing battle to stay at the top of the meat pecking order means pork processors have been forced to innovate and even diversify to keep the category strong. Drawing on consumer insight data, Tulip says it has been working closely with its customers to deliver products that meet the demands of UK consumers.

“This includes expansion of our farming operations to provide affordable high-welfare pork, a continuing focus on delivering consumer value in a tough economic climate, and work on ranges that deliver shopper needs of health and convenience,”​ says Anna-Kristine Marsh, Tulip’s customer NPD and innovation controller.

Positive health messages

To serve health-conscious consumers, Tulip is focusing on leaner cuts while delivering the same positive, high-protein health messages as chicken. It has also developed ready-to-cook products that require little to no preparation.

“Our focus has been to develop more added-value pork products that come with sauces, marinades and butters, plus quick-cook options for consumers who are looking for convenience but are not willing to compromise on health or taste,”​ says Marsh.

For those who have the time but lack the confidence, Tulip has also modified its cooking instructions to make them easier to understand. “By showing consumers different ways to cook a particular cut or simply trying to educate them on things like resting times, we are hoping to inspire them to have more confidence in cooking pork,​” claims Marsh.

As eating habits change, there is more demand for meat and protein products out of home, in particular for food-to-go and breakfast occasions. Bacon and sausage are an important part of this mix, and this is reflected in bacon’s sustained value growth.

Several pork processors have introduced healthier bacon products, including Finnebrogue’s Naked Bacon, which uses no nitrites. Cranswick says salt-reduction has been its focus in the drive to produce healthier bacon. Tulip also produces a low-sodium bacon, aimed at food-to-go operators.

Ready-to-eat and snacking are also experiencing strong growth, with protein-based, low carb light bites particularly popular. Cooked sausages such as hot dogs and frankfurters are performing strongly, and Tulip is jumping on this trend, offering a range of sizes and flavours, as well as snacking-based products such as black pudding and crackling.

Adapting to change

For pork processing businesses to ensure they keep the lion’s share of the meat market, adapting to changing consumer, social and customer demands is essential.

With consumers becoming more aware of the ethics of meat production and its transparency, Tulip acquired UK pig producer Easey Holdings in September 2017 to better meet this demand and create a compelling provenance story.

Diversification and innovation are also crucial for keeping the category strong. Dalehead Foods, a division of Tulip, opened a sauce plant at its site in Linton, Cambridgeshire, where it provides hot and cold sauces to the meat industry.

Adding the Linton sauce plant to our business has allowed us to be much more flexible and directly dictate the quality of our products,”​ says Matt Casey, Dalehead Foods’ NPD and innovation controller. “It’s also given us a USP, which in turn means we are providing unique products to our customers.”

Dalehead  says it has been working closely with its customers to launch product ranges that tap into new and growing categories, such as cooked meats with exotic world flavours, investing in its Corsham, Wiltshire, site to facilitate their production

The Tulip team, however, holds the view that innovation shouldn’t be limited to product but embrace all elements of the supply chain. Its agriculture division has won a number of industry awards for breaking new ground and delivering productivity and welfare, from genetics and feed, to housing and antibiotics controls.

Cranswick is looking at overall carcase utilisation. There is a trend for alternative cuts of meat, with fine cuts like shoulder increasing in popularity, as well as cuts ready to be slow cooked or sous vide, says Brisby. “We have also expanded our cooked meats offering. All these have allowed us to adapt to changing tastes and help keep the category in a strong position,”​ he adds.

UK pork sales


  • Primary pork –0.5%
  • Bacon 1.5%
  • Sausages 4.2%
  • Volumes
  • Primary pork –3.2%
  • Bacon 1.5%
  • Sausages 2.3%

Source: Kantar Worldpanel, YOY, 12 weeks to 17 June

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