The Alberta Pork Industry

The Price of Pork: Rebuilding an Industry in Crisis

By Amanda Philipow

Published June 2023

It’s no secret that shoppers have been experiencing the pressures of increased food costs for some time now. With a trip to the grocery store costing over 8% more than it did in early 2022, many Albertans are left feeling defeated, stressed and exploited by the inflated cost to simply feed our families. What’s worse is this issue is not limited to a retail level. Many producers and processors further up the chain are not only facing increased business costs, but losing money in some cases, too — and this is exceptionally prevalent in agriculture. 

As longtime pork farmers, processors and retailers through our vertical integration structure, we at Sunterra are uniquely aware of how this Canada-wide inflation affects the Alberta pork industry in particular. With this awareness in mind and consumer frustrations at an all-time high, we are determined to offer our valued customers a way to save money and feed their families in the best way we know how: premium quality, affordable and delicious pork. In honour of Pork Month — an annual celebration at the core of who we are — we’re offering a limited-time Value Pork Pack! By purchasing pork at Sunterra Market, you’ll be saving money, supporting a series of Albertan family farms, enjoying high quality food and helping to solve this nationwide food challenge. Let us explain. 

Over the last 18 months, both pork producers and processors have been dealing with poor and even negative margins. While retail profits have gone up and up, the costs for producers have also been increasing. To help shed some light on these unique circumstances and learn more about the industry, we sat down with Ray Price, president of the Sunterra Group, Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork, and Martin Waldner of Hartland Colony for some firsthand perspective.

“50 years ago, the farmer who put the greatest effort into raising pigs was paid the most, and today that just isn’t happening,” explains Darcy. “It’s not that we are asking consumers to pay more money. Most of the money is simply going to the retailer and is not being distributed back to farmers and processors. We’re just saying, ‘let’s share the pie.’”

For those not familiar, Alberta Pork is the association for pork producers in Alberta, representing just over 1,000 registered producers across the province. As executive director of Alberta Pork for over a decade, Darcy knows the ins and outs of pork production at every level. Sunterra’s history with Alberta Pork goes back generations, with Sunterra’s co-founder, Stan Price, being an early board member and chair. 

“We have a picture of Stan in our boardroom to remind us of our history,” smiles Darcy. 

A main part of Alberta Pork’s purpose is to track and monitor the movements of every pig throughout the production system for improved quality assurance. 

“It’s kind of unique that in the hog industry, anybody with a pig is legally bound to register and indicate where the pig is located,” shares Darcy. In addition, Alberta Pork instates regular veterinary inspections of the animals and internal audits of their commercial farms.

“Beyond that, we have a third-party auditor, an internationally recognized organization, who audit us as well,” Darcy says.“They’ll audit what we do, the farm, the vet and the national program to make sure we’re doing all we can to have the highest quality pigs.”

Those high-quality pigs come from family farms across the province, including our very own Sunterra Farms. All the fresh pork you’ll find in our markets comes from Sunterra Farms, but we also work with a network of 12+ other family farms across Alberta! These farms work to help supply pork for Sunterra Meats, Soleterra d’Italia, our export market in Japan and, most recently, our limited-time Value Pork Pack. We maintain close relationships with each farm and have strict protocols in place to ensure a consistent product across the board. One of these farms is Hartland Colony; a large farm near the town of Bashaw, overseen by Martin Waldner. 

As the barn manager at Hartland Colony (among many other titles), Martin has worked with hogs since the age of 15, and now works firsthand with some of the hogs that we process to create our premium pork products. 

“We have a very strict feeding program for everyone within our producer group to ensure that we all raise the same quality pork,” explains Martin. All the pigs are fed a mixed barley and wheat diet, grown and processed on the 8,000 acres within the colony itself. 

“The quality control we have — no one else can match it,” he says proudly. 

This process also allows for impressive sustainability, with the manure from the pigs being used as all-natural fertilizer for their next round of crops. Beyond raising their own pigs, Hartland also supplies farms within their same producer group with the genetics needed to maintain this quality control through breeding. 

With costs of feed operations continuing to rise, it would be easiest for Martin and his fellow farmers to cut back their expenses with cheaper options like corn — but compromising that quality has never crossed their minds.

“We know how to raise the best quality pork, we’ve done it for decades, and we want to continue that legacy,” says Martin. “When consumers are purchasing pork, it should be the best quality pork in the world — and that is the Sunterra product.”

As you can tell, raising, monitoring and caring for a pig is a labour and time-intensive process, taking about 10 months and involving many moving parts. With the retail part of the equation requiring the least amount of time, it’s no wonder there’s frustration concerning their share of the ‘pie’. This division of operations is difficult to navigate, but at Sunterra, we’re grateful for our unique ability to have complete control over the whole production chain. 

"The Sunterra Group consists of producers, processors and retailers joined together as one, and that's something no one else has done,” says Ray Price.

It’s our ultimate mission to provide our community with the highest quality pork at the best possible price. With no middleman to pay between our farms and your fork, we’re determined to pass those savings along to our valued customers while also ensuring our farmers and their families are taken care of and compensated fairly. We hope to inspire change in the marketplace, and to demonstrate how shopping locally is not only the best for your wallet, but critical to the wellbeing of Alberta’s pork industry. We’re also passionate about sharing that success with our own network of Albertan family farms. When you purchase pork from Sunterra Market, you can be confident that you’re positively impacting the livelihoods of families across the province. Being an informed shopper is critical and taking that extra moment to read packaging can make all the difference. Checking a label will make it easy to ensure you are purchasing real, grain-fed Alberta pork and receiving the highest quality product — all while generating a positive shockwave across the industry.

“We have to become more aware as consumers, as Canadian citizens, as Albertans — where does our food really come from?” Darcy poses.

While shopping for meals, many people don’t immediately gravitate to pork, but we encourage you to explore options besides chicken and beef! Pork is flavourful, lean and an excellent source of protein, zinc, iron, and vitamins B6 and B12. Many of your favourite dishes like burgers and meatloaves can be seamlessly replaced with ground pork instead, and with its versatility, it’s easy to incorporate pork into your regular diet.

With summer just around the corner, it felt like the perfect time to offer our customers an easy way to save money, enjoy high quality, flavourful pork and be a direct part of helping us make a difference during this industry-altering time.

“Pork is already a good deal at other grocery chains relative to the other proteins, but it should be an even better deal,” says Ray.

You can now pre-order our Value Pork Pack and take advantage of this incredible deal: For only $49, you’ll receive two pork back ribs, two pork tenderloins and two packages of six boneless pork loin chops — 40% less than the most affordable supermarket pricing in town as of May 2023. Stock up for your backyard barbeques and introduce your family to a new cut you’ve never considered before.

Visit Sunterra meat departments throughout June for additional savings on pork and to chat with our butchers for cooking tips and recipe inspiration. Thank you for your support of our family owned, Alberta-based business and the industry that brought us to where we are today.

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