Gaining Ground
By Megan Pellegrini, contributing writer

After a rough year, the pork industry is rebounding with bold, gourmet options, value-added packaging and the continued influx of natural and organic products.
One doesn’t have to be a foodie to find a plethora of exotic options today for pork entrees. A quick search of FoodNetwork.com yields 1,548 recipes for pork, including achiote marinated pork loin with pulled pork tamales in a hoisin-key lime syrup, Puerto Rican-style roasted pork shoulder with rice and black beans and pork roast with cumin-spiked mixed berry sauce and roasted parsnips. Since when has pork been so hip?
After a rough year, the pork industry is rebounding with bold, gourmet options, value-added packaging and the continued influx of natural and organic products. According to Karen Boillot, director of retail marketing for Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, the pork industry is having a good year with domestic consumption edging up, but global consumption moving slightly down. As chicken and beef prices go up, pork can be a more price-conscious option for consumers.
“We’ve seen strength in our value-added and heat-and-serve products at grocery,” says Boillot. “Retailers are diversifying their offerings, so they’re not quite as poultry-focused as in the past.” She expects to see continued growth at retail and foodservice in bold, flavored products, such as tenderloins, fillets and small roasts, and natural varieties.
FreshLook Marketing Group and Promodata report that pork dollar sales were down 0.4 percent and pound sales decreased 0.9 percent, as of April. However, those numbers paint a much rosier picture than last year’s data from FreshLook, which reported a drop in conventional pork consumption of 29 percent but an increase in natural pork consumption by 15 percent.
“Pork really has the perfect template,” notes Pat Huebner, senior vice president of business development and research and development, Swift & Co., based in Greeley, Colo. “Where beef has a romantic, strong flavor, pork products can take on lots of nice, diverse flavors and are a great complement to any meal.”
Even those old-school favorites, pork chops, are benefiting from increased exposure. The National Pork Board has noted retailers are prominently featuring them in promotional or value flyers to draw consumers into their stores. And to no one’s surprise, their dollar sales have increased, says Boillot.
Pork chops are also flourishing in foodservice, as restaurants experiment with gourmet flavors and work with pork producers to increase their juiciness. “There are things one can do to increase their juiciness levels, and it’s been a major milestone to increase their sales at traditional restaurants,” says Bill McClellan, senior vice president and general manager of foodservice sales channel for Swift.
According to Boillot, pork is also doing well at quick-service restaurants, casual-dining and white-tablecloth formats, particularly within the breakfast category.
“It’s a natural for pork because it lends itself well to breakfast,” she says.
Annual Pork Forecasts
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Production (millions lbs.) 20,509 20,685 21,055 21,646 21,975
Per capita disappearance* (retail lb.) 51.3 49.9 49.3 50.2 50.4
Pork exports (millions lbs.) 2,181 2,665 2,997 3,002 3,095
Pork imports (millions lbs.) 1,099 1,024 989 954 955
Live swine imports (thousand head) 8,506 8,192 8,763 9,402 9,550
—Forecasts are in bold.

*Per capita meat disappearance data are calculated using the Resident Population Plus Armed Forces Overseas series from the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce.

Source: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates and Supporting Materials. For further information, contact: Mildred Haley, (202) 694-5176, mhaley@ers.usda.gov