Beachport farmers chase new opportunities as restaurants shut doors

Kate Wheal, Willow Wheal, Lily Wheal And Mark Wheal (5)  TBW Newsgroup
ON THE LAND: Pig farmers Kate and Mark Wheal and their children Willow and Lily.

Kate Wheal, Willow Wheal, Lily Wheal And Mark Wheal (5) TBW Newsgroup
ON THE LAND: Pig farmers Kate and Mark Wheal and their children Willow and Lily.

A NICHE Beachport primary producer is working hard to meet the challenges posed to marketing its pork products as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

Mark and Kate Wheal have developed the Beachport Berkshire brand in recent years but the demand has dropped from nearly all quarters.

But as people are abandoning restaurants, two Limestone Coast retailers have been selling the boutique pork products.

“We are stocked at Fosters Foodland in Millicent and they have been great,” Ms Wheal said.

“They took an extra delivery from us two weeks ago when the panic buying really started to happen and manager Dave Foster was struggling to keep up with the demand.

“Since then they may have struggled to source beef or other meat, but they have had plenty of Beachport Berkshires on the shelves.

“Our pork is also sold through Collins Court Butchers in Mount Gambier and they were wholesaling it into quite a few Limestone Coast restaurants for us.

“Those sales have now disappeared with the COVID-19 shutdown but fortunately they have been able to retail the same amount of pork through their shop instead.”

Beachport Berkshires had been sending weekly loads of pigs interstate, representing 60pc of its weekly sales.

Ms Wheal said the product was being wholesaled to Sydney and Melbourne restaurants, but those sales have completely vanished.

“We have been frantically cold calling independent grocers and city butchers to see if they are interested in sourcing our pork,” she said.

“One large company was keen but then emailed back to say they will talk further with us when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

“It is understandable they do not want to take on anything new right now, but the pigs do not wait, they are growing rapidly and require feed every day.

“We are hopeful though there will be some new markets opening up as a result of these calls but it takes time to develop those client relationships and also to get people used to our product.”

Ms Wheal said Beachport Berkshires requires shops or butchers to take whole carcasses, which was not suitable for all clients.

“Often grocery stores would just get boxes of the select pork cuts they want whereas we do not have the scale of operation to just sell chops or bellies,” she said.

“Fosters Foodland have been great in that regard, they have worked out ways to use the trim into mince and sausages, sell slabs of crackling and wholesale surplus leg roasts into other businesses.

“We have been told that since they started exclusively stocking Beachport Berkshires last year their pork sales have increased by 30pc and it’s those sorts of figures we are trying to promote to other independent retailers.”

According to Ms Wheal, the everyday operations of Beachport Berkshires has also been impacted by COVID-19.

“As no one knows how long the shutdown of restaurants is going to be happening for, it makes future farm planning really hard,” she said.