Covid 19 drags Iberian ham into the hotel fall, which this Christmas may be more affordable than ever

Desserts

Can you imagine a wedding without a ham cutter? A business lunch without a freshly cut Iberian plate among the starters? It is not difficult, because there are no weddings or business lunches. And that has made the Iberian sector enter the final stretch of the year -the best of the year in turnover- trembling and falling prices.

Beyond its economic sensitivity (the Iberian sector invoiced just over 2,000 million euros a year, of which 813 million correspond to the top 10 manufacturers and marketers), the Iberian sector represents a source of rural work and support agricultural of the first order.

Ironically, for the end customer there is a golden opportunity to buy good Iberian ham - and the rest of sausages, although to a lesser extent - at the best prices in recent years.

The hotel bump

“The second quarter of the year has been null, which was the confinement; and in the third quarter we have had sales 50% lower than 2019 due to this decrease in the hotel industry, which is a very important consumption flow, because we have gone out less and because twenty million tourists have been absent ”, confesses Javier Castro Sánchez, president of Iberaice (the organization that represents the Iberian pig industry within Anice, the National Association of Meat Industries of Spain).

In that economic bonanza that is normally associated with consumption in the month of December, where there are moments where there are company dinners, family meals or the use of Christmas baskets and that now is filled with doubts.

“The last quarter of the year is the most powerful of the year. I could not say exact data but we can speak of a 50% total turnover among all sectors because we must take into account the hospitality industry, the retailer and large distribution ”, indicates Antonio Prieto, president of Asici (Interprofessional Association of the Iberian Pig ), which includes both farmers and industrialists.

Which is why in the first week of November they presented a campaign dedicated to the retail trade (markets, delicatessens and butchers) to raffle 50,000 blisters of Iberian ham among those customers who bought an Iberian in their local butcher shop.

“1,000 delicatessens from all over Spain where we are going to give each one 200 scratch cards where approximately 50 have an immediate prize of a blister of ham. Then everyone enters a raffle of 100 hams for next November 22 ”, specifies about this initiative to bring consumption to homes.

However, exports have served as an escape route for companies accustomed to it. "Joselito has been exporting for more than 35 years and we are currently present in 56 countries. Europe and especially Asia are functioning normally. Logically, consumption in homes has been modified, more is cooked at home and more product of quality ", explains José Gómez, who also values ​​the" strength of ecommerce ", with which" we have been able to adapt to the situation and evolve to continue working ".

The doubt in the best? quarter of the year

A concern to recover consumption that also worries the businessman, who must convert hams into money to continue with his work. We are talking about hams that should have been marketed in 2020 and that, although they can hold up relatively well for several months in the cellar, it was necessary to capitalize to continue with the activity.

“The fourth quarter of the year is the best in the Iberian for retail sales and also for Christmas meals and other celebrations. There is already a price war that I believe is taking place too soon and whose fall in prices leads to distrust of quality if it drops too much, "says Fernando Adell, president and CEO of the Cordovan company Dehesa de Campo Alto, with concern. attached to the Los Pedroches PDO.

A doubt that Francisco Espárrago, CEO and president of the Extremaduran company Señorío de Montanera, part of the Dehesa de Extremadura PDO helps to clear up, recalling that the ham that is sold now is a product that began to be made several years ago.

DEFINITION

COLOR OF FLANGE OR SEAL (DO NOT CONFUSE WITH LABEL)

PERCENTAGE OF IBERIAN BREED

TYPE OF FOOD AND AGING

PERMITTED WITHIN A PDO (DEHESA DE EXTREMADURA, LOS PEDROCHES, GUIJUELO AND JABUGO)

Iberian bait

White flange

Between 50% (100% Iberian mother and non-Iberian father) and 100%, although the usual is 50%

Raised in intensive, stabled and fed with feed.

No

Iberian field bait

Green flange

Between 50% (100% Iberian mother and non-Iberian father) and 100%, although the most common is 50%

Raised intensively or extensively, fed with animal feed and sometimes supplemented with natural pastures

Jabugo does not allow field bait in its standard. The rest of PDO yes, but they require 75% of Iberian race

Acorn-fed Iberian

Red flange

75% (100% Iberian mother and 50% Iberian father)

Raised in freedom in pasture and fed in their last fattening phase with natural grasses, aromatic herbs and acorns

Yes

100% acorn-fed Iberian

Black flange

100% (100% Iberian father and mother)

Raised in freedom in pasture and fed in their last fattening phase with natural grasses, aromatic herbs and acorns

Yes

“In the end we are talking about a productive period, in our case, about six years from when the pig is born until it is marketed. A six-kilo ham can be drying for three years and a nine-kilogram one goes away easily after four years. That is counting that we sacrifice the animals between 20 and 24 months of age, "he says.

The inability to act in the short term

Although there are differences between the bridles and the policies of each company, a pig from the time it is born until the ham is sold needs, in the least case, close to three years, which would be the case of an Iberian bait.

This raises medium and long-term scenarios where the pig is bought at a price and that, for market reasons, its hams may be sold cheaper than previously thought.

"It is a conjunctural crisis of low prices and few sales in a sector that is difficult to regulate and where you have to make short decisions when planning is long," says Francisco Espárrago.

“There is the example of the previous crisis. In 2008 and 2009 I bought expensive pigs, because we were in a bonanza, but when I sold those hams, I did it with a loss of € 80 ”, he continues. A situation that this year is in a similar situation, since we come from good years for the sector, which are at this crossroads.

As a minimum, the Iberian bait is slaughtered at 10 months, the field bait at 12 months and the acorn-fed Iberian at 14. The minimum cure of a ham is 19 months.

From this, Jesús Pérez, communication director of Asici, provides information on Ítaca (a sectorial web system that records and processes all the traceability information of Iberian products), to shed light on a good 2019 with the sacrifice of 3,661,028 Iberian animals, representing an increase of 40% since 2014. Accordingly, more than 13.8 million hams and shoulders have been identified in the last campaign (2019), which represents an increase of more than 45 % in the last five years.

"The problem is that we are in a perfect storm where exports also suffer. It is a situation of withdrawn consumption in Spain but also in the countries to which we export ”, indicates Elena Diéguez, technical secretary of Aeceriber (Spanish Association of Iberian Pig Breeders.)

"The sector was in a situation of stability in recent years, reasonably good, with a period of an upward trend in prices for the field and for the producer, but of course, there has never been a drop so brutal, nor so prolonged and with few signs of being channeled ”, he warns.

The solution for 2021: less pig in the field

The problem is not added only to having warehouses full of ham to sell, but also to not having cash flow to allow the purchase and raising of pigs in the forecasts that were managed.

“Possibly we will go to a reduction of acorn this year, with a sales output of 75%. Just as it is expected that there will be fewer pigs, there will also be fewer hams but we cannot think only in the short term because that pig that is not slaughtered now is a ham that will not be eaten in four years ”, explains Eva Sánchez, Financial and Marketing Director Communication from Fisan, based in Guijuelo (Salamanca) and attached to the Salamanca PDO.

A circumstance that is transferred to the fish markets, which is where the price of the pig is marked before slaughter. "We are concerned about a price war because healthy competition is good for the sector and no one is favored by the price war in the long term. We all move on auction prices that move week by week and that conditions everyone: farmers and processors ”Says Sánchez.

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