Sunday, May 25, 2008

Retail Memo: Meet Waitrose's Two-Legged 'Hog Blogger'; He's An Integral Part of the UK Food Retailer's 'Save Our Bacon' Campaign

No, United Kingdom supermarket chain Waitrose's "Hog Blogger" isn't a real hog. But he is a real pig farmer, as well as being the upscale food retailer's chronicler of all things porcine on its website.

You might say Waitrose's "Hog Blogger" is the "whole hog." He's 33-year old Fergus Howie, a second generation pig farmer from the English countryside town of Essex.

About his recent debut as a blogger in February, 2008, second-generation pig farmer Howie says:

"I thoroughly enjoy pig farming, it's great fun. As a farmer, I take tremendous pride knowing my pigs have had a lovely life. Our Wicks Manor bacon is dry cured by hand and smoked over oak and beech - in my experience, people are happy to pay a little extra for good quality. I'm proud to be the Save Our Bacon hog blogger. Over the coming months I'll be sharing my tales of life on the farm and I look forward to hearing what you think." Waitrose stores feature the farmer's Wicks Manor bacon mentioned above.

The full-time hog farmer and part time Waitrose blogger is part of the supermarket chain's "origins of our food" policy and program. Under that policy, Waitrose has three principles regarding the foods--especially locally-produced food products--it sells in its 165 upscale food stores and supermarkets in the United Kingdom.

Those three principles are: knowing the provenance of the foods it sells in its stores; food traceability, not only knowing where it comes from but keeping track of its origins in a quantitative manner; and responsible sourcing, which the retailer says means buying locally-grown and produced products whenever possible, along with making sustainable and Fair Trade foods a priority in its procurement and merchandising practices.

When it comes to hogs and pork (bacon, sausage, chops), Waitrose has launched a local foods campaign called "Save Our Bacon," which is designed to save, protect and sustain the British hog farming industry, which has been challenged and threatened by a variety of factors like economics, urbanization, animal disease and the rise of cheaper imports of pork products to the UK.

The Waitrose "Save our Bacon" campaign and the retailer's policy of selling local pork products is where Waitrose's "Hog Blogger" comes in. The full-time hog farmer, part-time blogger, who's local hog farm supplies bacon and other pork products to Waitrose, posts once a week or so on his blog, depending we imagine on how busy he is on the hog farm. [Click here to read and learn all about the grocer's "Save our Bacon" local foods campaign.

Below is the "Hog Blogger's (who remember is a first-time blogger so be gentle) inaugural post when he kicked off the blog on February 20 of this year on the Waitrose website:

Life on the farm
Published: 20 February 2008 20:18:06

Hello this is my first ever blog so stick with me. I’m a pig farmer, Dad started the pig farm about 45 years ago, I was brought up with pigs and my brothers and I used to ride them as small children (Dad said it gave them exercise and would make them better mothers), it was a bit like bucking bronco, and you had to watch where you fell. Our pigs are all farm assured as you would expect, and live...

You can read the "Hog Blogger's" latest post titled, "Who's the Boss," along with all his others to date at the blog here.

Waitrose prides itself on personally knowing every British farmer who supplies local pork, beef, poultry, eggs and dairy products to the upscale supermarket chain.

In fact, all of the beef the grocer sells in its stores comes from British Farms, for example. All of the sausages sold in the stores also come from British farms. Waitrose's bacon comes primarily from UK farms but some comes from Denmark as well. You can read more about the grocer's meat procurement here.

Waitrose, which was founded as a single small grocery shop in west London in 1904 called Waite Rose & Taylor and has been owned by the John Lewis Partnership since 1937, also owns and operates its own farm, the 4,000 acre Leckford Estate,which supplies free-range hen eggs, honey, flour, apples, fresh mushrooms and much more to Waitrose stores.

This weekend, which is the back holiday in the UK, Waitrose is holding a food faire for local vendors and customers at its Leckford Estate. The grocer also conducts regular tours of the estate farm and has a shop on premises which sells fresh produce and other foods produced on the farm.

In terms of the "Save our Bacon" campaign, in addition to pig farmer and "Hog Blogger" Howie, Waitrose has built a strong coalition to move the campaign forward in the UK. The coalition includes celebrity chefs, foodies, farmers, politicians, food industry types and many others. [You can read a recent "Save the Bacon" campaign update from Waitrose here.]

The campaign's strategy is to build local consumer awareness around the issue of saving Britain's hog-raising industry, as well as to promote sales of local pork, and to create laws and policies which will sustain and grow local hog farming and related industries and businesses.

Waitrose regularly writes about the issue and campaign in its popular consumer magazine Waitrose Illustrated and even has a "Save our Bacon" pledge here online which consumers can sign. There's also a "piggy quiz" at the link, where you can test your "pig knowledge."

Meanwhile, pig farmer and "Hog Blogger" Fergus Howie's last blog post was May 14, which is nearly two weeks ago. In other words, the world's only full-time pig farmer/supermarket chain blogger of all things pig (or the whole hog) is due for a new post.

In fact, he's a little late, based on his normal schedule. However, we understand mid-to-late May is a busy time on the pig farm, so we understand.

But we do hope Fergus Howie can break away from his work with the real pigs, so that "Hog Blogger" fans like us, who miss "pigging out" on his posts about life on the pig farm, can get a fresh taste of his latest comings and goings about life on the farm.

To be honest though, we haven't eaten much pork since discovering and regularly reading the "Hog Blogger" blog in March.

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