Moving too quickly to reduce stocking densities for broilers in the UK could threaten supplies of home-produced chicken, a leading supermarket warned the industry this week.
Speaking at the Pig and Poultry Fair, Tesco agricultural manager John Kirkpatrick said a widespread move to chicken grown at 30kg/sq m could reduce the amount of British poultry produced.
In the wake of Marks and Spencer’s move to the BCC (Better Chicken Commitment) by this autumn, and Sainsbury’s intention to move to 30 kg stocking density, he was asked if Tesco would be following their lead.
“We’ve got to have our farming supply base in mind,” he said. “We’ve got limited square footage here in the UK that we can actually utilise, and the danger is that by making a commitment like this, we actually reduce the volume of Red Tractor chicken available in the UK.
“There are loads of limiting factors in terms of IPCC, planning permission, capital availability. We need to be careful what we wish for here.”
Tesco had its own higher-welfare brand in the form of Room to Roam.
“It’s had a good uptake, there is genuinely a demand for that product, but it’s a very limited demand, that would be less than 2% of our total production.
“With high welfare, generally, you’re talking less than 5% [of sales]. It’s very clear from customers that they continue to want safe, wholesome, affordable Red Tractor product at 38kg/sq m.
“We clearly have a demand for a high welfare product, which we will continue to deliver, but value and quality are really important to customers right now.
Need for value
“We are certainly seeing our customers trading down the shelves, and there is definitely a need for a value product.
“The key thing for us is reassuring that customer that we are doing everything to make sure that product is healthy, well cared for, and is sustainable for the long term.”
Nick Davies, group agriculture director at 2 Sisters Food Group, added that higher-welfare chicken had a higher carbon footprint.
“We’ve done a lot with our farming partners in the last 12 months, and it’s evident that as we move into different production tiers, there is an increase in the footprint,” he said.
“There are ways in which we can mitigate that to a certain degree, but what’s more important is that it’s got to be driven by the consumer.
“What is up to us to do then, is to report factually and make sure the consumer is aware that by making that choice there is an increased footprint.
“What is equally important is that right from the start of our production chain all the way through, we look at mitigators.
“It’s got to be about compromise and just be honest. If you want to invest in that different production tier, then be honest about what the impact of that is. I don’t think we should be frightened of that.”