The past season's droughts in the US - the world's largest producer of maize - has caused a global shortage of cereals, which in turn has rapidly driven pig-feed prices up and caused swine herds across Europe to shrink.
Dev Biswal, chef patron of The Ambrette Restaurant which has sites in Rye and Margate, has already taken pork off the menus and replaced it with game – which is conversely seeing a fall in prices.
“We’ll monitor the prices again early next year and then make other decisions,” he said. “There’s plenty of rabbit and venison available this season so we thought it would be better to use something which is in-season and readily available.
“We’re putting into practice a policy of scrimping; using good value ingredients and making sure our single ingredients go a long way, by using trimmings and alike to keep the flavours going. We understand that the markets have still not rebounded back as much so we’d like to keep the pricing structure the same and just play with what ingredients are available.”
The hotel sector could also be hit hard by the pork shortage, with sausages and bacon widely used for English breakfasts.
“We’re in England, you can’t have a full English without a pork sausage and bacon,” said Dave Watts, head chef of the Cotswold House Hotel (which was one of the winners in the recent LateRooms.com Best Kept Secret Awards).
“Our biggest problem is that we use a lot of local suppliers for our bacon and sausages and we want to be working with those suppliers to try and make sure the price comes back down. We’re seeing it in eggs as well – they’ve gone up with the price of fuel and the price of feed.
“Hopefully, it won’t have too much of an impact though – It will not appear to be a direct cost to our customers because the breakfast is included in the room rate - it will add a little to the room prices, but not by a ridiculous amount."
Carveries and roasts
With the rise in ‘food-led’ pubs in the UK, larger pub groups and individual licensees will also be paying close attention to pork prices, with what is the most eaten meat in the world regularly featuring in carveries and Sunday roasts.
Sarah Thomas, head of food at the Orchid Group which manages over 300 pubs in the UK, said: “We’re well aware of these issues, we work closely with our butchers. We’re actually quite lucky, though, as with our carvery offerings as we have the flexibility to move between different meats.
“We just give a daily selection of meat, so if it becomes a real issue we do just have the option to not offer pork when there is a shortage. Plus, comparatively, pork is one of the more economical meats anyway; if you had a 10 per cent rise in beef costs then that would be quite painful, whereas in one of the more economical meats like pork it’s less painful.
“In a lot of our pubs we wouldn’t really be able to raise prices because we offer deals like ‘two for £10’ and we have signage outside promoting the prices - we wouldn’t generally increase a long-term price offer to cover a short-term problem.”
Dealing with the ‘a-pork-alypse'
So…what can you do about it? The only way you could have real control of the availability of pork for your menus is to invest in your own farm. As outlandish as this initially sounds, BigHospitality recently visited Lock's Drove Farm near Andover in Hampshire, which was recently invested in by the six-strong South London pub group Renaissance pubs.
Other top tips:
Oliver Paul, director of Suffolk Food Hall and Cookhouse, which runs a commercial pig operation as well as a 200-cover restaurant with an on-site butcher, said: “The American’s have had a shocking maize harvest, which has had a knock on affect to other commodities as people look to alternative feed stuffs.
“There is a real upward pressure on pork prices at the moment and hospitality businesses are going to find it very difficult to get locked-in prices from farmers because, speaking with my farming hat on, we going to look to make the most of what we have.”
“The savvy chef is therefore going to take the opportunity to review their menu and adjust it accordingly, sooner rather than later.”
- Use different cuts (shoulder/head/belly/loin) – “There are great opportunities to offer different cuts, to provide an extra interest from customers and also give better value,” added Paul.
- Create a rapport with suppliers – Thomas of the Orchid Group said: “It’s all about the supplier partnership; if you sign up with a supplier for two or three years, it gives them a bit of stability, it makes their relationship with their bank better, which makes their business stronger and in turn it inflates you with a bit of that inflation.”
- Spread the costs – Watts from the Cotswold House Hotel added: “Don’t be afraid to make your customers aware that great pork does come at a price, which is the same as any other food."