Don’t Go Bacon My Heart - Why Brexit could kill the Bacon Butty
By Sam Wass, Medium Well
With public outcry still ringing about the new shape of Toblerone, we are issuing a warning cry to Britain about the humble bacon sarnie. While freshly cooked bacon nestled on a pillow of soft white bread, with a splash of sauce, is the simplest of British breakfasts, it could also about to get chopped and changed in this crazy post Brexit world we are living in.
It’s not often that we agree with the supermarkets, but Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe voiced his opinion that the price of bacon is a growing concern post-Brexit. Speaking to Radio 4 Today programme, Coup admitted that the thickness of bacon slices might have to drop in order to make sure customers get the same number of rashers per pack.
Lovers of thin bacon might well rejoice (and we’re big lovers of crispy bacon ourselves, but then again who isn’t?) and although slightly trivia, this could well be the beginning of the end for the humble bacon butty.
The problem isn’t supermarkets maximising margin (although they’re not going to be keen to miss out), the bigger problem is demand from China. You see China’s appetite for British pork, has been kicked into meaty overdrive, as it has become much cheaper for overseas buyers thanks to the pound falling following the Brexit vote. We’re not talking about the odd bacon sandwich worth either, we are talking tens of thousands of tonnes, and with a lower price due to the demise of sterling, along with the fact that China’s farming industry has been hit by severe flooding this year, we have seen pork exports up 30% compared to the first half of the year pre-Brexit.
Demand is simply outstripping supply, and that has got bacon manufacturers in a muddle. A high pork export price almost always leads to a higher counter price for the customer, but no retailer wants to whack prices up 30-40% even though that would be the easy answer.
While a 10-15% increase has been passed on to the consumer, the pinch is being felt by the pork industry, with butchers and bacon producers and baring the butt end. While bacon will always be bacon, and weight will always be weight, slicing the bacon thinner, and selling in set-rasher packs is a very real possibility.
The other alternative is cheaper imported bacon from Europe, but the irony of exporting our own quality product, and importing a cheaper inferior product, is not lost on us. Britain used to be pretty self-sufficient when it came to pork, but we now produce about half the amount of pigs as we did 30 years ago. We are more reliant than ever on imports ourself, with European imports dominating, mainly from Denmark and Holland, where pig farmers have tended to follow lower welfare practises, with almost all of it intensively reared.
If we want to keep British bacon a decent thickness, then we might just have to pay for the privilege. General opinion seemed to be that people were prepared to pay more for the old Toblerone, so hopefully we’ll agree to pay more to save the bacon butty, or a thinner, imported lower welfare sarnie could be in the offering.