June 16, 2011


Australian pork sector supported by Asian buyers



The Australian pork sector's immense struggle against cheap imports from foreign countries is counterbalanced by the presence of Asian buyers.


If Sydney pork wholesaler, Stephen Cragg, had more room, he would employ more staff to cope with the big numbers of Asian shoppers who flock to his factory outlet to buy meat.


About 15% of the sales from the Wilmeat Cut Meat business goes straight from the boning room floor to Chinese shoppers and other Asian ethnic groups who arrive specifically to buy Asian-style fresh cuts.


"It is keeping us going pretty well," said Cragg, whose family has been part of Wilmeat for 30 years, and even longer as pork wholesalers.


"Without the Chinese market we would be like many pig producers who have left the industry in recent years. We probably would not be here."


A lot of the product snapped up by Asian families and restaurants comes from secondary cuts which once sold to pet food processors and tallow buyers for less than AUD0.20/kg (US$ 0.21), or would have become sausage meat.


Nowadays, shin bone or hock meat cuts, neck and Chinese ribs are in demand and worth up to AUD1.80/kg (US$ 1.90), while other popular lines include mince, rindless chops and boneless saddle meat stripped from pork middles, also baked without the rind.


Sales to the Chinese market began evolving 23 years ago as a sideline to a handful of regular customers, including a small Italian market.


Cragg estimated direct sales to Asian buyers had grown 5-10% annually in the past decade, a handy trend given the way imports had swamped Australia in the same period.


Australia now imports about 70% of the ham, bacon and smallgoods consumed every year which consists of about 136,000 tonnes of frozen processed meat a year (2600 tonnes per week).


In just three years, import volumes have jumped 25%.


Although no fresh pork is allowed in, the sky-rocketing Australian dollar has made frozen imports increasingly cheaper and more attractive to supermarkets, processors and the food service sector.


This, in turn, has made locally-produced ham and bacon less competitive, pushing those pork suppliers into a crowded fresh market.


Imports have now captured about 45% of Australia's total pig meat consumption.

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