A SHIFT towards buying local and "paddock to plate" produce has seen one Gunnedah pork producer sell out of Christmas hams ahead of schedule.
Oakleigh Pasture Pork's Jack Hewitt believes the rush for the traditional Christmas staple was born out of changes in consumer attitude.
"I don't know if it is because of COVID-19 or what it is, but this year we have noticed more than ever that consumers are getting in touch with the producer directly," Mr Hewitt said.
"They just seem to love being able to understand the background behind the products, love the paddock-to-plate concept and being able to put a story or a face to the products.
"In the past I don't think people really gave where their products came from much thought, but that is certainly not the case now."
Based on 162 hectares at Kelvin on Gunnedah's outskirts, Mr Hewitt said the demand for Christmas hams had taken him by surprise.
"I've been getting direct messages from people every day about getting a ham," he said.
"The demand for it is just so amazing and it is really pleasing to see.
"Given how tough the COVID-19 pandemic was on a lot of people this year, it is so good to see people looking to shop local wherever they can."
Specialising in a variety of breeds including Large White Landrace cross with Berkshire, Wessex Saddleback, English Large Black and Duroc, a new partnership has helped the business grow this year.
"We have been supplying The Free Range Butcher in Sydney since 2018," Mr Hewitt said.
"It has been going really well for us this year and I think even he sold out of hams a few weeks ago.
"To me that popularity comes from that shop-local mindset, which so many people have always had or have embraced during the pandemic. I also think us offering free range products is also appealing to the market of ethical eaters, which is growing all the time."
Despite a clear shift in consumer trends, Mr Hewitt said there were more ways shoppers could support Australian producers.
"I think more and more people in the supermarket are taking notice of whether the product is Australian made," he said.
"However, there are some products, not just pork, that are made from Australian goods but are foreign owned.
"It can be tough to tell at times but my advice to people who really want to ensure their money stays in Australia is to understand the ownership side of it and not just where the product's made."
After three years of drought, Mr Hewitt said 2020 was "one of the best in years", despite the challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're so grateful the rain came and helped not just us but a lot of people get back on track a little bit," he said.
"Hopefully we can start to put the pandemic behind us and start getting back to normal."