The majority of pig farming in Scotland takes place in the North East so it appropriate that the sponsor of the area's biggest food-fest this year is Specially Selected Pork.
The timing of Taste of Grampian at Thainstone on June 4th chimes perfectly with the launch of an exciting new promotional campaign behind Specially Selected Pork by Quality Meat Scotland. And one of the products being showcased at this year’s event is Ingram's Homecure run by local pig farmer, Sandy Ingram who is based at East Pitscaff Farm, Newburgh.
Sandy and his wife, Ann, farm 280 acres, growing wheat and barley to feed the 120 breeding sows and the finishing pigs in the pig enterprise which was established at East Pitscaff in 1982.
Back in 1999 Sandy began home-curing his own pork. He said: "I always had an interest in home-curing and I saw it as a way to add value to my home-produced pork. It was fortunate that about the same time as I started home-curing, farmers' markets began to spring up locally giving me a great outlet for my product."
Since then he has gone from strength to strength and now between 15 and 20 percent of the Specially Selected Pork he produces is sold through Ingram's Homecure. The remainder of the finished pigs go to Millers of Speyside or Quality Pork Limited (QPL) at Brechin.
A full-time butcher puts eight to 10 pigs through the Ingram’s homecure business per week with the most popular products being bacon, gammon and sausages. Sandy said, "It has always been easy to sell the bacon, the challenge has been selling the rest of the carcase, but we have worked hard on marketing it and now we sell a lot more sausages and fresh meat."
He still takes his product to five local farmers' markets every month but has also developed a sound retail customer base in farm shops, delis, local restaurants and garden centres. His own farm shop is well off the beaten track, but he said there are quite a few customers who come in on a regular basis.
Sandy has been involved with Taste of Grampian since it started 17 years ago and has picked up a lot of new customers at the event over the years. He said, "It is a great day out both for direct selling to the public and also to showcase my products to potential retailers who go on to stock them in their shops."
The one day event has enjoyed year-on-year growth and last year contributed around £2 million to the Aberdeenshire economy. This year, to coincide with the Specially Selected Pork sponsorship, Sandy is launching his new website at Taste of Grampian along with his rebranded packaging and logo.
He believes he has a great story to tell. East Pitscaff is a member of Quality Meat Scotland’s quality assurance scheme and all the pigs bred on the farm come from a high health herd produced to exacting welfare standards. He reckons one of the reasons people like his product range is that it has been on the farm from "conception to consumption"!
The breeding stock at East Pitscaff come from JSR Genetics where the focus is on the eating quality of pork. Sandy has signed up to Quality Meat Scotland’s new Scottish Pig Health Charter and said, "Anything which improves the health and welfare of the Scottish pig industry is worthwhile."
Sandy is finishing about 3000 pigs per year which take around 23 weeks to finish at the target weight of 85kg deadweight.
"I used to have about 300 sows but I reduced numbers so I could be self-sufficient in feed and all the grain I grow on the farm is fed to my pigs," he said.
Once the new website is up and running, people will be able to log on and see how the pork is produced and the bacon and gammon cured and Sandy hopes it will lead to internet sales which will further boost the business.
"The advantage of selling wholesale or retail is that it is not so susceptible to price volatility and I would like to increase the percentage of sales down this route," added Sandy.
At the moment Sandy is responsible for care of the pigs as well as sales and the marketing of his pork products and deliveries. He said, "My hope is that on-line sales will allow me to employ someone else and free up some of my time to concentrate on producing the best possible product."