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As is normally the case at this time of year, GB finished pig prices increased steadily during March, rising by about three pence over the month. Nevertheless, with prices low at the start of the month, the average DAPP was less than a penny higher than in February at 156.96p per kg dw. This was over 15 pence higher than in March 2012 and was the fifth highest monthly average on record. The weak pound helped to support prices by increasing the value of imported pork while some tightening of supplies also played a part. However, consumer demand was still subdued, limiting any gains, not helped by cold weather both at home and across Europe. Prices continued to rise into April, reaching 160.71p per kg by week ended 20 April.
Average clean pig carcase weights have remained relatively high throughout the first quarter of 2013, apart from a typical dip in the week before Easter. The seasonal fall which normally begins around the start of March has been less apparent this year, meaning the average weight for the month was over 600g heavier than last year at 79.74kg. This might be attributable to good growth rates earlier in the winter, with firm pig prices also playing a role. Weights have remained well above year earlier levels into April.
The increase in finished pig prices during the month encouraged some firming of weaner prices in March. The monthly average of £47.55 per head for a 30kg animal was over a pound higher than in February and about two pounds more than in March 2012. At this level, prices were at their highest since August 2010. Nevertheless, with feed prices remaining inflated, there is a limit to how much finishers are prepared to pay. Prices continued to rise, albeit more slowly, during April reaching just over £49 per head by week ended 27 April.
The GB cull sow price also followed a rising trend throughout March, averaging 106.68p per kg, seven pence higher than in February, although nearly 15 pence lower than in March 2012. The recent rise is partly attributable to developments in the finished pig market. However, with most sow carcases destined for export, exchange rate movements were also a major factor. Sow prices have been stable on export markets since mid-February but the weak pound meant that higher prices continued to be available for British producers. However, with the situation in Cyprus hitting the value of the euro, there was some decline in the sow price in April, taking it to 104.18p per kg for week ended 20 April.
Average EU pig prices have been largely stable in euro terms since mid-February, fluctuating around €172 per 100kg. The monthly average for March was less than a euro higher than the previous month at €171.93. Prices typically rise at this time of year as consumer demand picks up with rising temperatures. However, cold weather across Europe in March limited demand and this has been exacerbated by subdued export markets, notably Russia and Japan. Nevertheless, relatively tight pig supplies mean that the average price in March remained over ten euros higher than a year earlier. The price stability continued into April, with the average price for week ended 21 April standing at €171.16 per 100kg, still over seven euros higher than a year before.
The stability seen in the EU average price was also apparent in prices in some key Member States, notably those in North West Europe, including Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. However, prices further south were more varied. Prices in France and Spain were on an upward trend until mid-March as supplies tightened but have since eased back a little. Spanish prices are now the highest among major producers at over €190. In contrast, Italian prices have fallen sharply since mid-February, dropping by over 30 euros in eight weeks to reach just under €164 in the latest week. This was reportedly the result of a noticeable fall in consumer demand for speciality products which account for 70 per cent of Italian pigs.
The weak pound meant that in euro terms the UK reference price continued falling until mid-March. Since then, with prices rising and the pound gaining strength against the euro, the UK price has risen steadily. As a result, having closed to less than two euros in early March, the gap between the UK and EU reference prices had opened to over ten euros by mid-April.
The EU weaner price in March averaged €51.91 per head, an increase of a little under two euros on the month. At this price, producers received less than one euro per head more than the corresponding month in 2012. Prices continued to broadly follow the normal seasonal trend, levelling off as March progressed at a slightly higher level than a year earlier. Despite tight supplies, price rises have been limited by a combination of the lack of upward movement in the finished pig market and ongoing high feed prices.
Sow prices in key EU Member States have been stable since late February, having recovered from the usual seasonal fall either side of the New Year. The key German price was unchanged throughout March at €1.35 per kg and remained at this level through most of April. This was around four cents higher than the average price for February but was five cents lower than in March 2012. German sow slaughterings so far this year have been seven per cent higher than in the same period of 2012. The picture was similar in Denmark and the Netherlands, with prices in March stable at €1.03 and €1.15 per kg respectively.
UK SLAUGHTERINGS AND PIG MEAT SUPPLIES
UK clean pig slaughtering in March 2013 totalled 767,000 head. This was almost in line with the same month last year, being less than 4,000 down on the year. The Easter period is likely to have affected the lower kill with a short week for the Bank Holiday at the end of the month; Easter was into April last year. The Scottish pig kill recorded a decline by almost half. This reduction reflected the increased number of pigs sent to slaughter in England; throughputs in English and Welsh abbatoirs totalled 622,000 head, up 4% on the year. Throughputs in Northern Ireland were 4% lower compared with March 2012.
Adult pig slaughterings were one per cent down on the year at 20,500 head. This was close to the kill figure from the previous month and the small year-on-year decline was again likely due to the earlier Easter. Nevertheless, replacement rates remain relatively high by historic standards, despite the decline in sow prices compared with last year. This is the result of an increased focus on improving herd productivity by optimising the age and parity of sows.
UK clean pig carcase weights averaged 79.2kg in March, a marginal fall on the month but nearly half a kilo up on a year earlier. The ongoing high carcase weights may also mark a shift in processor requirements, as they aim to offset the lower pig numbers expected in the coming months. Northern Ireland recorded a year-on-year increment of over a kilo in their average carcase weight while the Scottish pigs weighed less by a similar amount. However, Scottish pigs account for only a small share of the total and so UK pig meat production was only marginally lower than March 2012 at 63,700 tonnes.
Based on the DAPP sample, estimated GB clean pigs slaughterings were higher in the first three weeks of April, although this was largely because of the earlier Easter. By the middle of the month there were increasing signs that supplies were beginning to tighten, with throughputs down on a year earlier and lower than in the first quarter of the year.
The UK imported 10% less pork in February compared with the corresponding month in 2012, the largest annual fall in more than six months. The easing in import volumes is partially the result of a drop in EU production for the month but demand in the UK has also been relatively weak, with the latest retail figures showed a decline in purchases. In addition the average import price increased by 7 per cent so the total value of pork imports was down by four per cent to £43.8m. Volumes from Denmark were down by nearly 30 per cent and their market share declined to be almost the same level as the Germans. In contrast, shipments from Germany and the Netherlands increased by five per cent and 23 per cent respectively, partly filling in the shortage of Danish pig meat. Reductions were also recorded from other EU Member States like Ireland, France, Belgium and Spain.
Bacon and ham imports continued the downward trend from the start of the year, with a 13 per cent decline recorded in February. With only a marginal increase from the other major suppliers (Netherlands and Germany), a notable 38 per cent drop in Danish imports was the main factor affecting the overall cured pig meat supplies. Further falls were recorded in processed pig meat during February, down by 29 per cent compared with the same month in 2012. Sausage imports also decreased by 13 per cent, which meant that the overall UK imports for February were significantly lower than a year earlier.
In contrast, the UK export market performed better in February, with an 18 per cent year-on-year increase in pork shipments. Volumes of both fresh and frozen increased but the rise was sharpest for the latter, which were up 22 per cent. There were considerable increases in exports to Denmark, likely for re-export, and China (which took 2,200 tonnes). Demand for UK products was also higher in the German and the Irish markets by 14 per cent and 12 per cent. Lower supplies to the Netherlands and Hong Kong did not offset the overall increment. With unit prices slightly higher, the value of UK pork exports increased by 20 per cent to £17.9 million.
Shipments of cured pig meat followed a similar downward trend to recent months but the fall failed to fully offset the rise in pork shipments. During February, bacon and ham exports fell 67 per cent compared to a year earlier, with contributions from all the main markets. Similarly, processed pig meat exports were down 35 per cent on the year as Ireland imported considerably less from the UK. However, as has been the case since September last year, offal exports were much higher, almost doubling with the majority of the increase coming from shipments to Belgium, Germany and China.
The LIFFE feed wheat futures price, for May delivery, closed at £193.05 per tonne on Tuesday 23 April, representing the lowest closing price since late July 2012. This represents a monthly decline of £5.70, or three per cent, as closing prices ranged between £193 and £204 per tonne within the month. The new crop price (November 2013) closed at £184 per tonne, compared to £185.70 a month earlier.
The CBOT May 2013 wheat price closed at $256.26 per tonne, down four per cent on a month earlier. The maize price recorded a significant monthly decline of $34.54 (12 per cent). The main recent price driver has been crop conditions and weather reports. Grain prices have fallen over the month, following reports of slightly better weather in the US and across Europe compared to conditions in March.
Prices have declined despite crop conditions in the US reported to be behind, as there is still time for improvement. As at week ending 21 April, 35 per cent of the winter wheat crop was reported to be in good/excellent condition compared to 63 per cent at the same time last year. Crop development was also well behind the same time last year. US maize plantings were behind the normal schedule but data shows that, at this stage, there is very weak correlation between maize planting progress and the final planted area and yield.
ADAS report that the UK’s winter wheat growth and development was limited by the cold and wet weather experienced in March. The UK crop condition report will be updated on 1 May and it will show how the improved weather of recent weeks has assisted domestic crops. With a large decline in UK wheat plantings and current crop condition concerns, the size of the UK wheat crop in 2013 is an important issue but it is worth reiterating that grain markets operate in a global environment. Thus, large scale price movements will be dictated by production prospects in wider Europe, the Black Sea region and North America.
The May CBOT soyabean price has also experienced a monthly decline and closed at $521.62 per tonne, down $7.62 on a month earlier as the price ranged between $500.31 and $534.11 during the month.
The global soyabean market has followed the trend of grain prices to some extent but the dominant news has been the tightness in the US soyabean supplies. The market has had to rely on the US for longer than usual this season, due to a slower than expected export pace in South America. Brazil has experienced port congestion while there are reports of reluctant farmer selling in Argentina. However, favourable weather has allowed harvest to progress fairly well in both countries; Brazil’s harvest was nearing completion with about 90 per cent of the crop harvested by 23 April and approximately 40 per cent done in Argentina.
According to AHDB’s provisional estimates, the cost of pig production figure in April fell for the third consecutive month to 162p per kg. A small fall in feed prices remained the main factor affecting the latest cost of production. The estimated figure was around 2p lower than March but was at a similar level to early summer last year, before the rapid rise in feed prices post-harvest. However, compared with the same month in 2012, costs are almost 9p higher but they are lower than 2011 levels for the same period, when feed prices were even higher.
Despite a relative fall in the cost of production, based on the current DAPP producers were still losing an estimated £2 per pig. This is the equivalent to a loss of 3p per kg. However, producer returns have improved since the start of the New Year, with losses estimated to be as much as £7 per pig in January. Forecasts suggest some easing in the feed costs for the remainder of this year, particularly after the harvest, indicating prospects of positive margins. However, this is weather dependent and assumes that pig prices maintain their current level or even strengthen further, based on the expected shortage of EU pig production.
According to the latest retail data from Kantar Worldpanel, in the 12 weeks ending 17 March purchases of pork declined six per cent compared with a year earlier. The decline was due to smaller volumes purchased per trip and a reduction in the number of households buying pork as switching to lamb and poultry meat continued from the previous month. However, loin roasting joints continued to post very impressive growth; purchases were up by more than a third, driving expenditure growth of more than half. Spending on bacon and sausages continued to grow, driven by average price rises, but the amount purchased declined. Ham purchases were similar to last year but a decline in average price resulted in a decrease in spending over the 12 weeks.
In the most recent four weeks, purchases of pork continued to decline year on year but at a slower rate of two per cent. Average prices jumped nine per cent, driving expenditure up seven per cent. Spending on bacon decreased slightly as declines in volume purchases accelerated. Sales of sausages also remained behind last year but average price inflation supported expenditure. Sliced cooked ham showed a more positive picture, with spending similar to last year and the amount purchased up one per cent.
Consumer shopping habits change over time, influenced by a number of factors. One of these is technological advancements, such as improved access to high-speed Internet, coupled with growing ownership of mobile devices. But how has this impacted the grocery market? It has never been as important that grocery shopping is shaped to meet the needs of more sophisticated digital consumers. They are looking for initiatives that can save them time and money, or preferably both. This has led retailers to be heavily focused on ensuring better integration between online and offline channels, allowing shoppers to easily and impulsively transition between the two.
The growth and investment in online grocery services has been a key priority for the majority of leading retailers, a trend set to continue. According to Kantar Worldpanel, online sales reached £5.1 billion in the 52 weeks to 17 March 2013. While they still represent a small share of the total grocery market at five per cent, they recorded 19 per cent growth year on year. The opportunity to harness technology doesn’t just stop at getting your groceries delivered to your door. There has also been a notable increase in the number of ‘click and collect’ schemes being rolled out.
Growing access to Wi-Fi in-store and the mobile internet also gives consumers new ways of searching for information while shopping. Quick Response (QR) codes increasingly feature on food labelling. Every month new apps for smartphone are launched; one example is the recent launch of the ‘where’s this from’ app which uses the 4-digit EU identification mark printed on pack to provide consumers with the ability to research more about the product they are purchasing.
With any technological advances there are barriers to overcome; the most notable for meat is the freshness of product. However there are things to consider for those looking to make the most from e-commerce, such as availability of deals on-line, recipe and nutritional information, product photos and customer reviews.
Maximising e-commerce opportunities is not just about the technology, it's about understanding the consumer needs driving solutions. It is also important to remember that for many households, traditional grocery shopping in store will continue. Therefore the choice isn’t whether to operate online or offline but an integration of both.
This pig meat sector UK market update was prepared by:
Prisha Patel and Stephen Howarth
AHDB Market Intelligence
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The United Kingdom pig meat situation and outlook is analysed in more detail in “Pig Market Trends”, published monthly. For further information, click here.
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