Belfast Telegraph

Co Tyrone pork on fast boat to China

Asia and US hungry for pigs' cheeks, ribs, heads and trotters

BY MARGARET CANNING

Pigs heads and trotters processed in Co Tyrone will be exported to China as soon as pigmeat firm Karro Group gets the go-ahead, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Karro Food Group -- formed after a management buy-out of the pork division of Vion -- is targeting China, Japan and the US in a push to increase exports already worth up to £70m per year.

Karro, based in Yorkshire, is awaiting export clearance from the Chinese government for its main slaughtering plant in Cookstown -- home of the 'sizzling' sausages named after the town.

A company spokeswoman said heads and trotters -- and pigs' cheeks which are sought after as a delicacy -- would be sent from Cookstown as soon as they get the nod from China.

She said: "We have all the paperwork achieved from Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and from the UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and are just waiting for the rubber-stamp from the Chinese authorities."

Karro chief executive Michael Carr said the move will be a huge boost to exports.

He added: "Two years down the line, we think we would be exporting double what we are at the moment."

The plant in Cookstown and another in Malton, Yorkshire, are already approved by the United States Department of Agriculture, while Malton is cleared for exports to China.

Michael Bell, director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said the agri-food industry here has grown by a third since 2008 but warned new global markets must be embraced to ensure further growth.

He added: "Obviously China is a very, very important food and drink market. The Chinese are looking for integrity in their food, and that's something we are very pleased to be able to deliver."

But, he added, it did come with difficulties, not just because of its distance from the UK.

"There is a lot of bureaucracy, and on any animal-based product you have to provide veterinary certification for the quality of the product, and that tends to slow things down," he said.

"However, Chinese people are buying more of the items which they regard as luxury goods, and there's no reason why our food shouldn't be part of that."

In an interview with Agenda NI magazine earlier this year, Mr Carr said identifying niche markets is crucial to success.

"For example, for pig meat from Northern Ireland, America is very important," he said.

"There is a deficit of ribs at the moment, so the primary product going there [is] ribs not pig meat, and they pay £1 per kilo higher than in Europe.

"Combining these niche markets with supply chain efficiency round out the business model for us."

Karro secured a £60m funding package from GE Capital in July.

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