THE retail arm of Virginia Farms Inc. is opening 16 more branches of The Pork Shop this year in Cebu and Panay Islands amid the African swine fever (ASF) that is plaguing the country’s hog industry.

Of the 16 new branches, eight will be set up in key areas from the north to the south of Cebu. The rest will be located in Panay Island in Western Visayas.

Virginia Farms president Rolando Tambago said the presence of ASF in some areas in Luzon and Mindanao will not affect the expansion plans of the company this year.

“We have identified priority areas in Cebu for the opening. What we can assure is that these branches will definitely cater to the needs of the community, especially with supplies from outside Cebu no longer available due to the ban,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture first confirmed an ASF outbreak in seven areas of Bulacan and Rizal provinces in Luzon in September 2019.

This prompted Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to issue several executive orders to protect Cebu’s P11 billion local hog industry, including a 90-day ban on the entry of live hogs, pork-related products, byproducts and commingled food products from the entire island of Mindanao and an indefinite ban on the entry of live hogs, pork-related products, byproducts and commingled food products from Luzon, Davao Region and Eastern Visayas.

Virginia Farms is set to open its 44th The Pork Shop branch in Cebu in Compostela on March 8, 2020.

By the end of 2020, The Pork Shop will have a total of 61 branches, of which 51 outlets will be in Cebu and 10 in Panay Island.

Tambago, who is also the president of the Central Visayas Pork Producers Cooperative, sees the ASF outbreak as an opportunity to educate consumers on the benefits of consuming local meat products and at the same time get them to support the local pork industry.

“By consuming meat produced from local farms, you are not only assured of the quality of the meat you are buying for your family but also supporting the local pork industry and that is the opportunity that we want to tap, more than the business that it brings to us,” said Tambago.

Based on the latest figures, Cebu is the fourth largest pork producing province in the country with the local hog industry valued at P11 billion, contributing at least 4.3 percent to the country’s total meat volume.

Cebu produces 53,890 metric tons of pork annually.

Tambago said with the current ban on pork and pork related products coming from some parts of the country and overseas, the group anticipates a shortage in supply.

But he stressed that this will not be strongly felt by consumers in Cebu as the province still has enough inventory to last for the next three months.

“By then, hopefully the local suppliers could have already ramped up their production,” he said. (KOC)