Pork: The Other Hot Commodity

by Lynn Petrak
Special Projects Editor
This protein group is charting new territory during this surprising year of industry challenging market forces.
If other protein markets have not followed the tenets of basic economics recently, the pork category in particular has defied the odds. “The amazing thing from our perspective is that we are looking at the same supply levels we experienced when prices went into the tank [in 1988], and prices are high now,” says Karen Boillot, director of retail marketing for the Des Moines, IA-based National Pork Board. “Our economist says we are in uncharted territory.”
On the other hand, territory is quite comfortable for certain suppliers. “If I could put the genie back in the bottle and say this is the way life is to be for the balance of my career, I’d be very happy. It’s been a great year to be an integrated pork packer,” remarks Bo Manly, president of Premium Standard Farms, Kansas City, MO.
Stats are positive
Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics per capita pork consumption rose from 51.5 pounds to 51.8 pounds from 2002 to 2003. In its grocery scanner sales report, FreshLook Marketing Group tracked retail pork sales at $4.21 billion, a 2.82-percent increase from last year.
Low-carbohydrate diets and fallout from animal-safety issues affecting other proteins rank among the factors fueling this non-traditional market phenomenon. Premium Standard Farms’ chief executive officer John Meyer confirms the impact of such factors while also crediting industry performance in dealing with them. “We in the pork business have become better marketers. That has some impact,” he notes.
Processors are working to deliver on quality. Premium Standard Farms, for example, touts its Processed Verified Program, recognized by the Agriculture Marketing Service of the USDA and based on quality management processes. “We are trying to drive that home with various initiatives like our antibiotic-free pork program,” Manly says.
Exciting times
New products have added excitement as well. The National Pork Board (NPB) recognized several innovative pork products in its 2004 “Consumers’ Choice Awards”, singling out items including Lupo’s Teriyaki Pork Stir Fry from Sam A. Lupo & Sons Inc., Endicott, NY, and Pork Crown Roast from Iowa Quality Meats, a division of John Morrell & Co., Cincinnati, OH, among others.
Swift & Company, Greeley, CO, also introduced a new marketing strategy along with a new product line. Currently, Swift is test marketing three fully cooked pork products under a new La Herencia brand, aimed at Hispanic consumers in select markets around the country. The products were chosen as authentic-tasting shortcuts, says vice president Pat Huebner.
“Particularly for this demographic, both parents are working so we said, ‘Let’s save them time and provide fully cooked items’,” Huebner explains, adding that the company plans to add fresh pork to the line and expand it into mainstream supermarkets.
Meanwhile, comprehensive marketing programs remain in place to move more products, including company and industry-funded efforts. Among other promotions, the NPD recently developed new low-carbohydrate advertisements and point-of-sale materials.
“I have to say it is one of the most popular programs, response wise, that we’ve done short term,” Boillot says.