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Monday, March 23, 2009

Marketing 101

The number of emails and phone calls I get from people asking about pigs is growing. I’m no expert – just ask the Cook, but I have learned a few things over the last couple of years. Most people’s interest, if course, is the revenue side – but I’m not telling how much we make. How much they are worth is conjectural, but I believe you shouldn’t sell a pig for less then the price printed in the Stock and Land newspaper.

There are a huge number of variables you need to consider, the biggest is how am I going to market my pigs. You can do this a number of ways, however; knowing your market and its particular needs is just as important. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald provides a perfect example. Tomorrow I’ll talk more about what markets are available.

This organic pig went to market

IT'S an impressive sight: 1000 pigs, snuffling and grazing their way contentedly across wide, open green fields. These Berkshire porkers live on a 200-hectare propery west of Tenterfield in northern NSW, where they roam pesticide-free pastures of lucerne and grasses with special rain and shade shelters designed for their comfort.

After their morning feed of organically formulated pig food and supplementary minerals, the pigs - separated into groups according to their age and size (breeding sows, as all mothers should, get a little extra special treatment) - spend the rest of the day playing, sleeping, grazing or foraging.
The certified organic property and free-range lifestyle seem a happier environment than most commercial piggeries, where animals are often confined to an indoor pen with little chance of experiencing the sun on their backs or dirt on their trotters.

Jack and Miriam Neilson, owners of Pasture Perfect Produce, began raising pigs in 2001, after moving out of the beef cattle industry into which Jack had been born. "There are not too many certified organic free-range piggeries in Australia," Miriam says. "We did some calculations and found that pigs have a high conception rate, they can throw a litter twice a year."
Then they had to choose the breed. "We wanted a coloured pig so it could withstand being outside in the sun and we stumbled across the Berkshires, which were being advertised for sale," she says. They bought two at first, Daisy and Doris, then looked for blood lines from around Australia to build up the stock to about 100 breeding sows.

Miriam started out naming each pig but only she could recognise them, so she gave that up (and she was running out of names). She tries not to have favourites, particularly among the pigs who are headed for the table at eight months old, but admits that a couple are quite special. "If one of my boars sees me in the paddock, he stops what he's doing and runs over," she says. "They love a scratch on the head or a belly rub. They'll lie down and roll over."

Jack and his parents had been farming beef cattle in central Queensland, using more sustainable farming practices since the mid-1990s, but he and Miriam wanted to take it further.
"Jack has always had asthma and skin conditions, and when we cut preservatives from his diet it went away," Miriam says. "We felt a responsibility to farm foods without chemicals or additives."
When they began selling their free-range meat at farmers' markets in 2002, the response from customers made their efforts worthwhile. "Once they bought the products and tasted them, they realised how sweet pork should taste. We also castrate our males, so there is no boar taint to the meat," she says.

From free-range farming, the next step for the Neilsons was to try to find a chemical-free way to cure ham and bacon.
They had already stopped adding commonly used nitrate to the meat "but after feedback from customers at farmers' markets, we decided that there had to be an even better, or more natural way, to cure the ham and bacon", Miriam says.
After doing research on the internet and phoning people all over the world, she finally found a food scientist willing to help. "A lot of people didn't want to know about us, they were all very secretive and closed-mouthed," she says. "And most food processors or butchers were under the misapprehension that cured meat had to use nitrates for legal reasons but we pointed out that was only for fermented or dry cured meats."
The couple also faced opposition from processors and retailers who said the shelf life of organically cured ham or bacon would not be as long but Miriam believes there is enough demand to warrant slightly shorter use-by dates.

Organic cured products are not new in Australia (or around the world) but the Neilsons believe the process they have developed to treat their free-range pig meat is an Australian first.
For cured meat products to gain organic certification they have to be processed without the use of nitrates or other chemical preservatives. Commonly, organic ham, pork and bacon are cured using a salt brine, often coloured with beetroot powder to keep the meat looking pink. Once the meat has been cut, however, and the beetroot starts to oxidise, the meat loses its pink colour.

The Neilsons' method uses natural anti-oxidants to preserve the colour and the flavour of the meat. They received their official organic certification in December, after a year of development, testing and convincing processors to follow their recipe.
"For anyone in the food industry it's the same - you have to push for what your customers are asking for and what you believe in," Miriam says. "Now we just have to educate people about the difference between free-range products and organically certified ones."

This is their web site for more information.

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