The PigSustain project, received £2 million to create a model to support the UK pig industry to respond to future challenges posed by the intensification of production, fluctuations in consumer demand, climate change, global production levels and international trade.

PigSustain is part of the UK’s cross-government programme of food security research and involves biologists, economists, spatial scientists, statisticians, computer scientists, vets and industry representatives.

The team from LIDA includes Professor Mark Birkin, Dr Nik Lomax and Dr Will James, who are developing the part of the model that will forecast consumer trends and market stability. The research draws on the Office for National Statistics data from 2008-2016 as well as attitude surveys by government and polling companies.

“Essentially we’re looking at how much people spend on pork products, which products they buy and how that has changed over time,” explains Dr James. “We also want to understand the spending habits of different groups within the population and the reasons those habits change.”

To drill down to this level of detail, the team is taking data from the annual Living Cost and Food Survey, which provides information on everything bought by 12,000 people over a single fortnight. Because the sample used for the survey is representative of the population as a whole, this data can be mapped against the UK population using the National Census, based on variables such as age, gender, ethnicity and household income. Enabling the team to calculate what pork products are bought by whom, and where. The data covers all food products, so they can see what items replace the pork products if consumption levels fall.

“This will allow us to quantify the impact of certain consumer trends,” says Dr James. “For example, with the older generation preferring to buy joints of pork, how important to the market are new products, such as pulled pork, which are of more interest to younger consumers?”

The analysis has also highlighted huge variation across the UK, with certain areas of London seeing weekly expenditure on ham and bacon of just 20p per person, rising to 60p in some rural areas.

“Based on the attitude surveys, which include some demographic information, we can see how much pork consumption is affected by different factors, including religious beliefs, disposable income and environmental beliefs,” says Dr James.

The next step is to use this historical data to map future trends of pork consumption and expenditure across the UK, drawing on the expertise of colleagues in LIDA who develop population projections. This will then feed into the larger PigSustain model to help the UK pig industry prepare for the future.

PigSustain is funded, by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council and Scottish Government, through the Global Food Security’s ‘Resilience of the UK Food System Programme’