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The Spanish meat industry: a consolidated leader

The Spanish meat industry occupies by far the first place in the entire Spanish food and beverage industry, with a turnover of 27,959 million euros, 22.2% of the entire Spanish food sector.

02 Dec 2021

Putting this dimension in context with the Spanish industry as a whole, this turnover represents 2.32% of the total Spanish GDP (at market prices), 16.2% of the GDP of the industrial branch and 4.2% of the total turnover of the entire Spanish industry. Furthermore, it should be added that direct sectorial employment, 99,859 workers, represents 25.2% of total employment in the Spanish food industry.

These 28,000 million euros in turnover place the meat industry among the country's major industrial sectors, after the automobile industry, the oil and fuel industry or energy supply, and alongside sectors such as the chemical or metallurgical industries.

The meat sector is made up of an industrial fabric of some 2,800 companies with activities in slaughterhouses, cutting plants and processing industries, located especially in rural areas and with a very important base of small and medium-sized family-owned companies, while at the same time large business groups, some of them leaders on a European scale, have also consolidated their position.

Spanish meat production

In 2020, and with a very outstanding growth of 8.2% compared to 2019, Spanish pork recorded a new production milestone, reaching 5 million tons, marking yet another year at a historic level never before reached.

For its part, the beef sector fell in production by 2.5% compared to the previous year, with a total of 677,296 tons, while sheep/goat, with a total of 124,467 tons, lost 5.5% compared to the volume of 2019, a year in which it had managed to grow by almost 1%.

Pork production is Spain's leading meat activity, accounting for 66.1% of all meat. With this volume of production, which represents 4.4% of world production, Spain has consolidated its position in recent years as the fourth largest producer of pork, behind China (which alone produces 43.8% of the world's pork) and the USA (11.8% of world production), and practically at the same level as Germany (4.9%), and practically at the same level as Germany (4.9%). (11.8% of world production) and practically at the same level as Germany (4.9%), and ahead of Brazil (3.7%), Russia (3.1%), Vietnam (2.3%), France (2.1%) and Canada and Poland (1.9%). At the same time, it is the second European country in terms of production, accounting for 19.6% of the EU total, ahead of France (9.3%), Poland (8.3%), the Netherlands (6.9%), Denmark (6.6%) and Italy (6.1%). The European Union as a whole is the world's second largest producer, with 22.7% of the total.

Beef ranks third in volume (after poultry meat), with 8.9% of national meat production, although in this species Spain is further away from the leading positions in world production, led by the USA and Brazil. Spain also represents 8.9% of European production, behind France (18.2%), Germany (14.4%), the United Kingdom (11.7%) and Italy (9.9%).

The same can be said of sheep meat, whose declining production not only in Spain but in the European Union as a whole for years began to rebound slightly since 2015. In this case, and after the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, Spain is already the first European producer of sheep and goat meat, with 15.6% of the total and ahead of France (11.2%), Greece (9.2%) and Ireland (8.4%).

As regards the production of processed meat products, Spain, with more than 1.4 million tons per year, is in fourth place in the European Union, behind Germany, Italy and France. By products, cooked cold cuts stand out in volume and cured hams and shoulders (white and Iberian) in value.

Meat foreign trade

In 2020, with a complex context caused by the covid-19 pandemic, the meat industry continued its export expansion of recent years, reaching a new annual record, with more than 3.1 million tons of meat, offal and processed products of all kinds, and a value of 8,481 million euros, exceeding by almost 1,000 million the already spectacular figure of 7,555 million euros sold in markets around the world in 2019. This represented a very positive trade balance of almost 800%, a figure that very few relevant economic sectors can present, and which contributes to palliate the traditional trade deficit of our country.

With this, the Spanish meat industry has continued to advance firmly in its outstanding role as one of the reference exporters in the international meat and meat products market, consolidating a little more its role as a reference exporting power.

The year has set a new record in that spectacular export development of recent years, pulverizing the already imposing bar of 7,555 million euros and 2.71 million tons of meats and meat products of all kinds that were sold in 2019 in markets around the world.

Thus, in 2020 foreign sales reached 8,680 million euros, practically 15% more than the previous year, bringing the positive sign of the sector's trade balance up to 800%. The total volume exported was 3.07 million tons of meat and offal (21.5% more than in 2019) and 200,000 tons processed products (2.6% higher than the previous year).

These overall figures continue to be led strongly by the trajectory of the pork sector, which has already established itself on the podium of the world's largest exporters, with the United States and Germany. In 2020, 2,130,808 tons of pork were exported, worth €5,651 million, representing growth of 23.5% in value and 23.9% in volume. It is clear that China's demand during 2020, due to its production and supply problems caused by the African swine fever that devastated the country's pork sector, boosted the sales of Spanish exporting companies.

Extra-EU markets were for the first time the main destination for exports (57.3%) of national white-coat pork, with an increase of 25% compared to 2019, according to Interporc data. To this must be added 647,000 tons of offal and pork fat, worth 851 million euros. China was the country that imported the most Spanish pork, representing 47% of total exports, 109.6% more than in 2019. In total, the Asian giant purchased pork worth €3,134 million, up 117% compared to a year earlier.

As for beef, the balance of exports was equally positive both in terms of value, with a figure of 760 million euros and 12.9% growth compared to the previous year, and in tons (199,930, up 4.3%), in addition to 32,835 tons of offal and fats for an additional 49.2% million euros. And in sheep, 43,170 tons of meat and 18,400 tons of offal were exported, with a total value of 221.2 million euros, 7.6% higher than what was achieved in 2019.

In processed products, exports were 200,090 tons (+2.6%) and €1,148 million (+4.1%), a positive but undoubtedly still modest evolution for higher quality and therefore differential and higher value-added products.

Overall, although non-EU markets are gaining importance, as has been mentioned in the case of pork and pork offal, in the other products the most important value of our exports is still directed to the European Union: 87% in beef and beef offal, 69% in sheep and 68% in processed products, with France, Germany, Portugal and Italy as the main customers.