Manel González. Journalist
WikiSpanishFood speaks with the secretary of the National Meat Processing Industries Association of Spain (ANICE), Miguel Huerta, who tells us about the current situation and future opportunities for the sector.
Manel González.- What's the current status of Spain's meat industry with respect to the main European leaders?
Miguel Huerta.- Our companies represent a leading industry in Europe, which has made notable progress compared with our main competitors in the EU and which has evolved considerably in just a few years to achieve a corporate structure that is very modern and tech-savvy with a good level of competitiveness.
As a result, it's worth noting that we're the leading country in Europe in terms of the number of slaughterhouses authorized to export to China and Taiwan and we're first on the waiting list to begin exporting to Mexico.
Although it's also true that we need to enter new markets, such as India for example. And as regards beef and mutton, that's where we need to look at new markets. Spain needs to broaden its focus away from pork, our star product. We must work, advance on and firmly commit to meats like beef and mutton, of which we are also major producers. In this regard, we expect positive developments in BSE will enable Spain to be recognized as a country with insignificant risk of encephalopathy at the next World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) assembly. This situation will indubitably give a new boost to beef and mutton exports.
We're also lagging behind slightly on the issue of protecting our products. We have items as emblematic as Ibérico and Serrano ham and yet they don't have adequate international protection with recognized quality designations, such as PGIs. And other "very Spanish" products such as chorizo and dry-cured pork loin have no protection whatsoever.
M. G.- What percentage do exports account for?
M. H.- In barely 25 years, the meat industry has gone from zero sales abroad to become the leading exporter in Spain's agri-food industry and a top player in the global market for meat products. For several years now, exports have been a strategic variable for the sector, which faces two notable challenges in this area: significantly increasing sales to non-EU markets and expanding value-added products, i.e. processed products which set us apart from the competition in other countries.
Pending 2015 data, we could say that in the first ten months of the year, exports expanded by 13.4% with respect to 2014. Ten months with very notable figures such as 25% growth in beef, 15% in pork, 10% in ham and 24% in cold cuts.
The Spanish meat sector exported 1.71 million tons of meat and processed products of all kinds in 2014, with a value of 4.467 billion euros, to markets all over the world, yielding a very positive trade surplus of 460%. Spain is currently the world's fourth-largest exporter of pork, with a market share of 8%, trailing only Germany, the US and Denmark. Most importantly, the sector is benefiting from notable growth in exports to non-EU countries, in a year when the Russian market was shuttered and barred.
M. G.- How can competitiveness be optimized, in terms of both production and the meat industry?
M. H.- There are a series of factors in which the sector must dig deeper to seek out that competitiveness.
On the one hand, part of the industry is not big enough, so it's not easy to compete with major supermarkets or with large companies from other countries in international markets. We have to look for collaborations with other companies which improve that situation in terms of the size of the companies and also in terms of innovation. In fact, we have pitched the idea to possible future governments of drafting an Act which promotes company size and includes specific measures—relating to tax, corporate, and labor issues as well as public aid—which support collaboration, cooperation and/or corporate mergers.
On the other hand, innovation, the implementation of new technologies, the use of the internet in the meat industry, advances in robotics, drones, automation, engineering, etc. are all vital for our industry, and we have to make progress in sales spaces and marketing with online sales and social media, where there's still significant scope for growth.
For example, ANICE has taken steps to promote six ambitious collaborative innovation projects, paid for with EU rural development funds, in which primary sector organizations, companies and technology centers and the industry are working together to resolve important tech issues for our sector.
This initiative also highlights the important collaborative efforts to create an environment that favors company growth, underlining the importance of joint action by companies and sectors through their Associations. ANICE, as the main organization in the meat industry, is working hard to be an ally to our companies, to defend them and help them maintain profitable and sustainable growth.
M. G.- What type of relationship does the industry have with stockbreeders? What are the main demands they convey to ANICE?
M. H.- Our relationship is fluid and loyal with primary production representative organizations, understanding that each of them should defend their legitimate interests and achieve the best context for activity to benefit everyone in the meat value chain.
In this regard, it's worth highlighting the role of Interprofessional Organizations, which are instruments that can be very valuable for the various sectors, improving their competitiveness, as they are collaborative entities throughout the value chain and they have a tool, such as extensions of the rule, to generate much-needed resources.
As for our demands for production, there's the issue of everything related to the necessary improvements in animal health, with a very special focus on sensitive and strategic aspects such as antibiotics and topics related to the environment and animal welfare, among others.
M. G.- Trends against meat consumption have become popular recently. How does the sector respond to this situation, which is increasingly palpable?
M. H.- Meat is an essential part of a complete, balanced and healthy diet. It always has been; this is nothing new. It's clear that there are some "conflicting currents" which are not based on scientific evidence but which, nevertheless, have an impact on public opinion.
At any rate, society makes statements and the sector must respond in a socially responsible way with supported information and with serious commitments for better eating. These commitments include aspects such as revamping to bring to market products with more positive nutritional profiles, or providing appropriate and complete information for consumers to help them choose between different meats and processed products.
We are also demanding responsibility from international institutions and bodies to avoid cases such as the poor recent example of the WHO's announcement about red meat and processed products, made via a press release, which was alarmist and disproportionate, and where a laudable attitude and common sense on the part of consumers, health professionals, medical companies, the media, etc. was able to avoid a disastrous situation.
M. G.- Do you expect growth in the industry in 2016 or are you more cautious in your forecast?
M. H.- It's important to always be cautious with forecasts, but we believe we'll be looking at growth, due in part to the improved economic situation in general, after such difficult years, which will drive domestic demand, and also to the good performance of exports.
Compared with stagnant production in Europe, our outlook for pork remains positive; as for beef, growth will also be the trend if the obstacles are overcome.
M. G.- The 2016 ANICE Awards, which will be presented soon, recognize efforts during the year of people and institutions in the Spanish meat sector. Broadly speaking, how did the industry do in 2015?
M. H.- In general, it wasn't a bad year. In terms of production, we increased in channels by around 8% in pork and 7% in beef. The price of commodities was not favorable for the industrial sector that works with fresh products, but it was for processed food companies, allowing for a slight recovery in their margins, together with the first steps toward the incipient recovery in consumption.
We expect the positive trends for our sector to gain strength this year.