Comment: Innovation is required for UK to compete on a world stage

By Aidan Connolly, Chief Innovation Office & Vice-President of Corporate Accounts at Alltech

While UK agriculture is likely to endure ten years of turbulence as a result of Brexit, the good news for poultry producers is, they’re in the right business.  

With lower costs of production than pork, beef and lamb, poultry is affordable as well as being versatile and universally accepted amongst consumers around the globe. Therefore, unsurprisingly, poultry is set to become the most popular meat on the planet, with 50 percent of global meat growth between now and 2022, projected to be represented by chicken.  

While the global outlook for poultry looks very positive, the question for the UK poultry industry is whether it wants to, and is capable of, competing in a world market.

Taking into consideration cost of production, Brazil, Argentina and the US are currently at the forefront to supply increased demand. This is due to the comparatively lower feed costs, with Alltech’s global feed survey showing that on average, feed costs in the UK are 20 percent more than Brazil and the US. With feed representing around 70 percent of the cost of production for eggs and poultry meat, this puts the UK at a major disadvantage.

If the UK is unable to compete in a global market in terms of feed costs, the industry must embrace innovations quicker than any other country to either create products that consumers are willing to pay more for, or increase production efficiency.

New technologies offer a real possibility to achieve this and provide the UK poultry industry with a unique opportunity to extend its footprint into new markets.

Farms, feed mills and processing plants need to share real-time data across the supply chain. Typically, information is currently 3 to 5 days out of date but if the industry could share real-time information on areas such as weight, feed consumption, stress and health, as well as environmental measures like air quality, it could revolutionise the sector. 

From robots, drones and sensors, to artificial intelligence and virtual reality, there are a host of digital technologies with multiple applications available that could be utilised, with the internet providing the conjunction between them all. 

With retailers and consumers increasingly using factors other than price and availability to source their food; technology and innovation is also required to differentiate and add value to poultry products.

The added health benefits of consuming eggs and poultry is a key area of interest that offers possibilities for product differentiation. In particular, there is a growing amount of academic interest in the role of DHA omega-3, in protecting against depression and Alzheimer’s. With an ageing world population, this could come into play in the near future.

To capitalise on opportunities, the industry needs to pre-empt all the potential questions that the retailer or food processor could ask. From sourcing the right products, real and perceived food safety risks, to workforce policy, the UK needs to be ahead of the game.

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