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A learning experience

Eleven young managers from the UK meat industry attended this year’s Meat Masterclass’ in June and hopefully went home a little richer from their first hand experiences of the Danish industry ... and culture.

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The ‘Meat Masterclass’ is a full week learning programme, specially tailored to the needs of junior and middle managers in the meat industry. The course is run by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council and participants are able to enjoy a varied programme in Denmark, during which they gain insights into the whole meat production chain. This year’s course took place during June.

Attendance on the course is open to participants nominated by the Danish companies in the UK, either young managers from their own companies or their customers’. The ‘Class of 2014’ included participants from Danish Crown, Direct Table and Tican and four customers – Cranswick, Farmer’s Boy, John’s Bacon and Russell Hume – with mixed working backgrounds – operations, trading, technical and sales and marketing

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“We learned about the good job the Danes are doing and this will encourage us to discuss the benefits of buying Danish pork and bacon with our customers,” said one of the participants

You could say that this is what the Meat Masterclass is all about: spreading information about Danish pig production and following the farm to fork trail in a pro-active and practical way.

The programme included a hands-on course in sausage-making  with Master Butcher and restaurant owner Peter Steen from Gourmandiet in Copenhagen , practical butchery training at the Danish Meat Trade College, a visit to Danish Crown’s slaughterhouse in Horsens, a farm visit and presentations on meat quality and ethical and sustainable pig production.

“We learned more during the week than we can possibly talk about!” said another participant.

It was generally agreed that the two highlights of the week were the visit to Danish Crown’s slaughterhouse in Horsens (recently featured in Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped) and the visit to Niels Aage Arve’s farm in Jutland, which included his 350 freedom farrowing pens.  Mr Arve pointed out that he invested beyond his requirements, which supported the participants’ view that “Denmark provides a benchmark for research, innovation and quality”. For a couple of the participants, this was their first ever visit to a pig farm.

As for the visit to Horsens, the 11-strong group generally found the experience “overwhelming” – in terms of the size, statistics and technology. Although several of the participants mentioned that they would have liked to have visited the production floor itself, the overall experience impressed the majority. “Seeing Danish Crown was unbelievable with its eye-opening technology. They are a million miles ahead…”

The week was packed with information, but there was still time for the participants (many of whom had never visited Denmark before) to get out and about and experience Danish culture at first hand. The Danish open sandwiches and hot-dogs proved particularly popular, which perhaps made up for the rhubarb purée served with the roast pork. A surprising and not altogether pleasing combination for some!  

The objective of the Masterclass had clearly been achieved when, during the closing presentations, one of the participants commented: “We need pork in the UK, we don’t produce enough and after this week’s experience, we genuinely feel that Denmark should be the preferred country of import.”

The Meat Masterclass is now in its 9th year and DAFC UK Market Director, John Howard, is highly positive about the programme his organisation has developed “There is no better way of acquiring knowledge than through first hand experience and I hope that our programme provides a perfect ‘mix’ of theoretical knowledge from our own specialists and practical ‘hands on’ learning, combined with better appreciation of the unique Danish culture. Once again, we had a fantastic group, from a variety of backgrounds, who were keen to learn and gave us first-class feedback on their experiences during the week. Over the years, around 100 young managers have attended our course and I hope the experience gained in Denmark will have served them well in their careers in the meat industry”.