Hogging The Spotlight
Pork processors ratchet up the flavors and formats, hoping to do the same to sales.
The theme of the current marketing campaign sponsored by the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board (NPB) is “Don’t Be Blah.” It’s also an apt directive for the pork category itself, as it grows to include a greater variety of products supported by more targeted marketing initiatives.
Like almost all proteins — with the exception of chicken — the pork industry experienced ups and down in the past year.
Jim Schloss, corporate vice president, sales and marketing, for Smithfield Foods, Inc., Smithfield, Va., sums up the current situation this way. “It’s not dropping out of the sky, but it’s not increasing.
 “There have been categories of pork that are growing, like case-ready and things that are value-added, such as marinated, stuffed, rubbed and in some cases precooked,” notes Schloss. “One of the issues I think we can do better on as an industry is introducing consumers to different cuts.”
Smithfield, for its part, hasn’t shied away from product introductions. “We’re doing newer flavors and are also working on what we call our ‘One Step Closer’ line. Whether it’s something with a rub or marinade, a product stuffed with garlic mashed potatoes or wild rice stuffed inside a pork roast, it’s all about making it easier for the consumer,” explains Schloss.
Other fresh pork companies have taken up some of the preparation that consumers typically did in their own kitchens. For example, Premium Standard Farms, of Kansas City, Mo., rolled out new pork loin filets in Parmesan & Herb and Roasted Chile & Lime varieties last spring. The Always Tender® line of flavored fresh pork from Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corp. now includes varieties like tequila lime shoulder filet and apple bourbon tenderloin, among scores of other profiles; in its latest earnings report, the company indicated double-digit growth in its flavored meat line.
Fully cooked pork products are also showing up in the increasingly crowded heat-and-serve portion of the meat case. Greeley, Colo.-based Swift & Company unveiled a ready-to-cook line of seasoned and marinated pork, in flavors like Lemon Garlic, Honey Mustard, Teriyaki and Smoky Bacon Peppercorn, among others. Taking a cue from the deli kingpin that is rotisserie chicken, Farmland Foods, Inc., of Kansas City, Mo., developed a sirloin tip rotisserie pork roast for retail delis.
On the other temperature extreme, the freezer case is making room for more pork as well. As part of its new series of frozen products, Tyson Foods included a frozen pork chop, while No Name Quality Meats, out of St. Michael, Minn., recently created two new varieties of frozen pork loin chops.
Natural fresh pork products, too, are diversifying. Farmland’s all-natural line of fresh pork includes new cuts like Steamship Picnic Roast, Pork Burgers and Steamship Leg of Pork, while the John Morrell &. Co. subsidiary of Smithfield offers several all-natural fresh pork portions.
On the foodservice side of the business, industry-funded activities and processor programs have continued to encourage restaurant chefs and staffs to feature pork on the menu. Schloss says that the tactics are working in increasing porks’ visibility alongside stalwart proteins like beef and chicken. “Chefs are doing well with it, and are comfortable working with pork,” he observes, citing in particular the surge in ribs, shredded and pulled pork and sandwiches and wraps. NP
Annual Pork Forecasts
  2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Production (millions lb.) 19,664 19,945 20,509 20,684 21,171 21,760
Per capita consumption (retail lb.)* 51.5 51.8 51.3 50.0 49.6 50.5
Exports (millions lb.) 1,611 1,717 2,179 2,660 3,070 3,235
Imports (millions lb.) 1,070 1,185 1,099 1,024 1,089 1,110
*Per capita meat consumption data are revised, incorporating a new population series from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis based on the 2000 Census.
Source: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Supporting Materials
Published in Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ldp