Fresh pork occupies a unique, positive position in today’s retail meat case. Despite a tough economy and input costs that have spiraled upward for pork producers in 2011, the category is performing positively.

According to FreshLook Marketing, for the 52 weeks ending July 24, 2011, fresh pork sales increased 4.3 percent in dollar sales and decreased 5.7 percent in volume compared to the same period a year ago. The average price of pork increased 10.6 percent during this time period.

In the coming months, hog supplies are expected to remain steady. Retailers are encouraged to continue featuring pork this fall into winter, offering consumers cost savings at the meat case, even in the face of higher prices on competing proteins.

To help retailers and packer processors boost their pork sales, the National Pork Board is focused on several key initiatives in 2011 and 2012, including targeting a new consumer base with a new brand campaign, and encouraging consumers to cook pork to 145°.

These programs are just the start to helping the industry meet some challenging objectives by 2014. These objectives include a 10 percent increase in real per capita domestic consumer expenditures for pork (as compared to 2009), a 10 percent increase in annual eatings per capita of fresh pork as measured by the NPD Group’s National Eating Trends data versus 2009, and an increase in consumers’ awareness of how to cook pork in a way that results in a juicy, tender and flavorful eating experience, as measured by a 10 percent improvement in a national market survey.    

Calling all Pork Champions

In order to increase per capita consumption of fresh pork, a new target customer was identified. Initial market research conducted by the National Pork Board indicated that there is a significant group of loyal pork consumers.

The research also revealed that these consumers represent roughly 68 percent of all in-home fresh pork consumption and 50 percent of all away-from-home pork consumption. This group was identified as “Pork Champions,” and they are now the target consumer group for all communications from the National Pork Board.

There are approximately 82 million Americans who are Pork Champions. These men and women are predominately medium to heavy eaters of fresh pork with a strong passion for pork — and they are eager to share the things they learn about pork, including recipes, cooking tips, information on cuts, etc. with others. This group also has the greatest desire to eat more pork. They enjoy cooking and are more likely to experiment with new flavors in the kitchen. In short, inspiration is important to them.

Being Inspired

With a new target consumer base of “Pork Champions” — creative, flavor-seeking home cooks who prepare, eat and love pork —the National Pork Board also recently announced a new branding position celebrating pork’s ability to offer a wide range of options in the kitchen: Pork® Be inspiredTM.

With PORK® as the brand, the new campaignshows pork’s place in almost any menu, time of day, cuisine and lifestyle, based on pork’s unique combination of flavor and versatility.

Retailers can best reach their Pork Champions by providing the inspiration they seek to create delicious pork dishes at home, including:

  • Educating them on the various cuts to allow them to expand beyond traditional chops, ribs and roasts.
  • Providing cooking tips to help the time to getting dinner on the table faster.
  • Making flavor and pairing suggestions.

In order to benefit from these ideas, retailers have to purposefully pause and think about their meat case layout for pork, their ad usage of pork and how they educate their consumers.

Simple on-pack labels placed on pork packages can serve as a great conduit for information. Signage has a critical role too. Signage doesn’t always have to be about the ad features. With a little planning, retailers can just as easily use this space to inspire their customers with new preparation and pork cut information.

With loyalty card programs, communicating directly to Pork Champions through direct mail and/or email can prove to be quite beneficial as well.

Cooking to 145°

The new magic number for pork is 145°F. Since the USDA reduced the final cooking temperature for pork to 145°F, with a three-minute rest time, home cooks have been able to enjoy medium-rare pork that is juicier and more tender than when cooked to the more traditional 160°F.

This temperature drop is pivotal for the pork industry, which has worked for years to promote this change. The new temperature guidelines make it easier than ever for consumers to create perfectly-cooked pork that is moist and delicious. The success of the 145°F effort depends on educating consumers that pork, cooked to 145°F, is recommended. Then National Pork Board encourages retailers to spread the word to their consumers so that they have a great eating experience and keep coming back for fresh pork.

Today’s consumers look at pork differently than other proteins, and they choose pork because of its delicious flavor and versatility. Combined with its attractive price point, it is the ideal protein to purchase for a variety of family-friendly meals.

Retailers can capitalize on pork’s favorable position with their Pork Champions by purposefully thinking about pork when developing planograms and ads. Merchandising fresh pork with recipe cards or simple side dish ingredients can help create an easy and efficient shopping experience for consumers, and ultimately increase sales for the meat department.