Traditionally made from pork rind and delivering a unique combination of a hard crunch – from the layer of rind – and a rich, softer texture – from a layer of fat – pork scratchings boast a unique and often polarising appeal but have become meat and drink to Britain’s pub goers in every sense.
“Pork scratchings are synonymous with the pub and really are the ultimate pub snack,” explains Matt Smith, marketing director at Tayto Group (who own Mr Porky, Midlands Snacks and The Real Pork Co - the top three brands).
With three quarters of Brits (72%) having bought pork scratchings on a trip to their local, and one in-six claiming they won’t buy another snack if pork snacks are unavailable behind the bar, it’s hard to accuse him of telling porkies.
“Consumers view pork scratchings as the ‘uber-snack’ and have a real craving for the rich flavour and salty crunch which means that other snacks just don’t come up to scratch - especially when paired with beer, wine, spirits or fizzy drinks,” Smith continues.
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While the majority of consumers in the pub environment are looking for a traditional scratching, as category leaders, Tayto is driving further growth by introducing new versions and alternative products suited to more daytime eating or for whom a traditional scratching is just too ‘hard-core’.
A new premium product has been added to the range – Mr Porky Hand Cooked Scratchings. With a Great Taste award-winning recipe, they are hand cooked in small batches by cooks with many years’ experience and are set to be the ultimate pork scratching.
The new packs had the highest purchase intent of any pack in consumer research and early sales in supermarkets looking really strong ahead of a launch of a pub card version in November.
Mr Porky Crispy Strips are a relatively new innovation having been around for less than five years but has sold very well. Made from thin strips of shoulder rind – instead of the shank rind of a scratching – they have a light and crispy texture akin to bacon rind when grilled, appealing to those who may consider a scratching too heavy for, say, a daytime snack.
For a modern twist on a scratching, The Real Pork Co. Golden Crunch offers an even lighter eat. Made from back rind, they are the airiest and lightest pork snack around. Double cooked by hand in small batches with a seasoning with no nasties – no artificial flavours, monosodium glutamate or gluten – Golden Crunch has premium packaging that reinforces the brand’s foodie credentials. Suitable for more contemporary pubs and clubs, a new carry bag format of Golden Crunch is being launched in November.
These three products are available on pubcards or in carrybags making them easy to display and catch the eye of customers to generate those all-important incremental sales.
The story of how the humble pork scratching came to leave pubgoers as happy as the proverbial pig is broadly believed to span more than 100 years.
General consensus is that they first went to market in the 19th century West Midlands, very much as a working-class snack arising from the tradition of families keeping their own pig at home to be fed up for slaughter. Times were tough so all the parts of the pig would be used where possible, including the skin.
Butchers began trotting out scratchings more regularly in the 1930s, and while they were sometimes sold hot, more often than not they were served cold in a small paper bag – foreshadowing what we see in pubs today.
Today, brands such as Midlands Snacks Traditional Scratchings continue to hand cook high quality scratchings, using the finest shank rind and signature seasonings, an artisanal process and recipe that has barely changed over the years.
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Brands like Mr Porky – the #1 brand and hence the nation’s favourite - have been producing high quality scratchings using a recipe that has changed little over the past 60 years using the finest shank rind and signature seasoning.
Given the traditional, artisan roots of pork scratchings, many consumers – especially in the pub –look for a product that reflects this history which is why Midland Snacks Traditional Pork Scratchings is the leading pub card and the ultimate pub snack.
Tayto Group sold over 700,000 pub cards a year, which equates to over 200 packs of pork scratchings per pub, per year. Given one in six of consumers won’t buy a different snack and pork scratchings are VAT-free, they really are a must stock snack to capture incremental sales.
Steve Harris, founder of Hairy Bar Snacks – a website dedicated to pork scratching history, recipes, news and reviews – now believes that the stalwart snack has achieved cultural status in Britain akin to the likes of black pudding and haggis. “The cultural status is bestowed upon them by the people recollecting times when they were young, and seeing these foods eaten by their elders.”
Whilst scratchings are a British delicacy, similar foods are found around the world. Variants of the historic Midlands delicacy are eaten as far afield as Mexico, where they are known as Chicharrones and paired with lime and chilli sauce, and similar pig snacks fly off the shelves in China, Thailand and Vietnam meaning Brits are not alone in their love for a scratching.
Going the whole hog
Scratchings are intrinsically linked to the pub in consumers’ minds, evident by the fact that more than four-in-five (83%) pork snacks are consumed with a drink according to research conducted by Tayto Group.
Yet despite the prevalence of modern consumer trends such as veganism and the growing clamour for healthy snacking, pork scratchings have, surprisingly, seen something of a recent revival.
Such is their appeal, Steven Bennett – the head chef at the Healing Manor Hotel in Grimsby who is also known as, simply, the Lincolnshire Chef – reflects on the “real shame” in the historic neglect of certain pig parts that are not commonly known or have been looked down upon as “poor cuts”.
However, he argues that certain chefs and customers turning their snouts up at less popular cuts has allowed publicans to bring home the bacon instead.
“Pork scratchings, an off cut that has stuck around for many centuries, strikes a fine balance between encouraging our customers to drink more and also a sense of sentiment for those enjoying them,” Bennett tells The MA.
“There’s a real sense of British culture and nostalgia when it comes to going to the pub and the good old-fashioned pork scratching ticks that box perfectly.”
Who eats pork scratchings?
If you think it’s just ‘old blokes’ then you could not be more wrong!
When the BBC asked whether pork scratchings were going posh in 2015, the broadcaster revealed that actress Cameron Diaz once told Elle magazine that they were her "favourite snack in the whole world" – even with "the bristles" – while singer, songwriter, producer and vegan, Beyonce told Cosmopolitan that she previously snacked on scratchings as part of a low-carb diet.
- 44% of people eating pork scratchings are women
- Almost two thirds (63%) are under 45-years-old with 41% under 35
- While they started out as the preserve of the working class, a third of pork snacks are now consumed by AB consumers with more than half consumed by those in the ABC1 bracket.
Source: Norstat Jan 20
According to celebrity chef Paul Ainsworth – who runs of a stable of Cornish pubs including the Mariners in Rock – our nostalgia continues to see pub-goers pig-out on pork scratchings.
“I believe the best British pubs are the ones that make you feel very comfortable – that's what pork scratchings do, they give you that hug.”
Research for Mr Porky – the UK’s #1 scratching - concurred that nostalgia and comfort are key reasons for eating pork scratchings.
“My dad loved scratchings and when I have them, I always think of him,” one respondent revealed.
“It’s happy memories of childhood for me,” another recalled. “We’d be in the social club and with all the family gathered round and my uncle would go up to the bar and get us pop and a load of scratchings - and we’d all share them.”
Celebrity chef and pub operator Tom Kerridge adds that “simple” scratchings are also very much in touch with farming and countryside and help give the rustic feel of the pub a further dimension.
“I know more and more flavours have come into play now, however, it has always been about crispy pork skin, I mean, the best bit about roast pork has always been crispy crackling,” he says.
Scratchings and Champagne?
“I think they’re one of those perfect snacks, especially if you're matching with beer – which is what pubs are known for,” Ainsworth adds.
“If your favourite drink is something like a chilled lager the lovely fatty richness that you get from the scratching will just go so well with the beer’s carbonation. But then equally it'll go well with your IPAs and your ales.”
“A lot of beers, like your Pilsners, are quite citrusy and that nice little acidity that you get, or a nice hoppy IPA, works brilliantly with a snack like pork scratchings as they’re slightly salty, really get your thirst on and are quite moreish.”
Bennett adds that consumers could do a lot worse than swilling something with “real acidity” to cut through the fattiness of the meat.
“While a cask ale with citrus and spice notes is going to be great for the beer drinkers, don’t underestimate the pairing of a glass of Prosecco or Champagne,” he says. “Alternatively, if you are looking for the perfect wine, opt for something with a level of acidity and fruity flavours."
Such is the strength of the tie between pubs and pork scratchings that a number of shuttered brewers and operators included them in pub themed takeaway boxes sold during Covid-19 lockdown.
Julie Moss, managed house controller at Wiltshire-based Arkell’s brewery, even goes as far as to describe them as “the holy grail of pub snacks”.
“It’s the unique flavour and total Britishness of the pork scratching that make them a ‘must’ to accompany our great beers. Asking pubs not to stock them is like not selling beer in pints, totally unthinkable in my book,” she tells The MA.
Which region eats the most pork scratchings?
While pork scratchings are eaten across every region of the UK, almost half of them are being purchased in their Midlands home, London and the south east.
The Midlands, and especially the Black Country, would lay claim to be the home of pork scratchings although people across the North have a long history of eating them which is why proportionately they are still consumed more in these regions.
Nevertheless, £1 of every fiver spent on pork scratchings in the UK is spent in the Midlands.
Place for tradition
With post-lockdown trading now well underway, a snap poll by global intelligence platform Streetbees found that one-in-five Brits have eaten pork scratchings in the past month, with almost one-in-ten (8%) eating them in the last week.
What’s more, Tayto Group sold more than nine million bags of pork scratchings on pub cards last year.
But with the recent rise of veganism, moderation and a focus on sustainability, how have pork scratchings made the contemporary cut?
Ainsworth says “I think they're completely and utterly relevant to the modern-day consumer, to the modern-day pub – everything in moderation.
“Long may they continue, I think they're an amazing pub snack - they're certainly something I grew up with in the pub and I just don't think we should forget those traditions."
Harris adds that pork scratchings chime with the emerging “snout to tail” movement identified by trends and ideas agency The Food People as a means of maximising limited resources in an environmentally conscious, post-Blue Planet, world.
“They are sustainable because they are almost a waste product,” he argues. “If people eat pork, there's room for scratchings. When the planet is on its knees because of the demands the population, we will need to use every part of the animals we farm.”