Consumers — especially younger ones — are seeking bold and more globally-inspired flavors, while still being convenient, and those trends are driving the pork industry in 2024.

Patrick Fleming, Midan Marketing’s brand specialist for pork, says that 2024 should be the “Year of Pork.”

“Pork has some really nice strategic advantages against some of its competitive proteins,” he said. “Pork has availability and it’s expected to grow at about 1%. Pork has not been inflationary this year as the other proteins, so it has a true value proposition.”

What makes pork shine is its incredible versatility. Pork producers offer a wide range of convenient cuts, making it a budget-friendly protein option that adapts to any meal.

In fact, recent research by the National Pork Board has shown there is a world of flavor in pork, providing over 110 unique flavor nuances. Pork’s naturally delicious taste can be further accentuated by endless marinades, rubs, sauces, and cooking methods.

Mia Newman, director of channel marketing for the National Pork Board, notes consumers are also increasingly seeking out healthy and globally inspired whole food options and supermarkets can capitalize on this trend by highlighting the versatility and nutritional value that lean pork offers.

“Today’s pork, with about 16% less fat and 27% less saturated fat compared to 30 years ago, aligns well with health-conscious consumers’ preferences for heart-healthy protein sources,” she said. “In fact, eight cuts of pork currently meet USDA’s guidelines for ‘lean’ cuts, meaning they contain less than 10 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving. We’ve seen an increase in Asian and Hispanic inspired pre-marinated cuts from our packer community, suggesting unique recipe ideas for familiar cuts can cater to the adventurous tastes of modern eaters, while also promoting pork’s nutritional benefits.”

The bottom line: pork provides a lean alternative to chicken that is flavorful and versatile, making it popular with most consumers.

“Shoppers continue to look for convenience in home meal preparation, and when it comes to meats, value-added products are a popular way of bringing variety to the home menu while also saving a lot of time on the prep side,” said Ryan Barnett, market insights manager for Seaboard Foods, which manufacturers Prairie Fresh pork products.

Household penetration of meat is still at 98% even with inflation being top of mind with the shopper. Inflationary pricing on meats, and pork in particular, has actually been lower on a percentage basis than the overall store.

“Despite this, pork sales are strong when compared with historic levels, as shoppers are still seeing that pork provides the value, taste and health benefits they want to include in their meals they serve to their families,” Barnett said.

Following the trends

Smithfield evaluates trends and flavors to work to meet the expectations of consumers within the fresh pork category and has found that bold flavors and convenience are what people are looking for.

“Smithfield’s marinated fresh pork has become increasingly popular,” said Stephanie Kensicki, senior director of marketing for the Smithfield, Va.-based company. “The flavors, convenience and versatility of the products provide consumers with easy meal solutions, such as turning a marinated roast into carnitas, or a small loin into stir-fry.” Additionally, many consumers and retailers have expressed an interest in more sustainable packaging, and Smithfield is on track to achieve 90% recycle-ready, reusable or industrially compostable packaging by 2030.

Fleming sees all pork segments rising in 2024, including ham, sausage, bacon and pork shoulder and loins seeing strong growth heading towards spring.

“We’ve really seen growth across the pig,” Fleming said. “It’s really driven by the value flavor proposition that pork offers.”

Marketing measures

Promotion is important to pork, Fleming said, because the segment tends to be more of a planned purchase.

“Consumers usually know when they are buying pork what they are doing with it. Pork needs a nudge and needs to be brought up so it’s top of mind.”

Driving demand for pork is an ongoing priority for every facet of the National Pork Board.

“We developed marketing platforms centering around our Hispanic and Black or African American consumers who we know have a high affinity towards pork due to strong cultural relevance,” Newman said. “We lean into those cultural nuances and highlight the areas where pork can play an integral role in meals and social occasions.”

For instance, Ponle Pork is a strategic platform introduced for the Hispanic audience and aimed at positioning pork as the go-to protein that adds to meals, traditions, routines, and nutritious lifestyles.

“We understand the Hispanic consumer base has a high affinity for plants and greens and the addition of pork can elevate those meals,” Newman said, adding that supermarkets that market this platform have found big success. “Placing pork in culturally relevant context while messaging around the flavor and nutrition of pork has proven to be a winning formula with this audience.”

Seaboard Foods is seeing success in emphasizing pork’s versatility and the variety of ways one can prepare a nutritious and protein rich pork dish.

“We’re trying to help educate consumers on how to pick the best cut of pork by working with chefs and pitmaster ambassadors who have cultivated careers on choosing the best cuts of meat,” Barnett said. “They not only share their own recipes and pork preparation, but they share tips on what they look for when browsing the meat case for their own meals.”

Additionally, emphasizing the health attributes, like high protein content, that pork provides is one way to draw consumers in.

“Cross merchandizing with the products that round out a dish is another key way to help consumers envision what their meal will look like,” Barnett said.

Recipes and meal inspiration has been at the forefront of consumer education for Smithfield to bring high-quality pork as a center-of-the-plate protein or quick addition to enhance a dish.

“The versatility of the Smithfield marinated line aids in consumer confidence while creating their favorite meals,” Kensicki said.

Display tactics

Within the perimeter of retailers, specific sections for proteins have been developed. However, more recently, stores have been diversifying sections to create a collection of offering based on the cut instead of the protein, for instance, moving all ground meat — beef, turkey and pork — together for consumers to easily decide based on their meal plans.

“Pork gets its most energy when it’s all together,” Fleming said. “Merchandising it together is incredibly good. This time of year, rib displays are critical because we are heading into the heavy rib season.”

Supermarket shelves can be transformed into engaging destinations for pork with a focus on variety and education, according to the National Pork Board.

“Offering a range of cuts caters to diverse needs and preferences is key,” Newman said. “Retail shelves should display various pack sizes and packaging formats that will suit a variety of consumer needs. Each store should understand who their shoppers are and what they want to customize the product assortment and pack size and formats to them.”

She added that it’s important to tell the story of pork by including meaningful signage that not only educates shoppers but also guides and inspires them to try new recipes.

“Highlighting the surprising leanness of many pork cuts—some can be as lean as skinless chicken breast — through clear labeling empowers curious home cooks,” Newman said. “This approach is further enhanced by showcasing recipe inspiration and pairing pork with complementary ingredients like vegetables, fruits, or seasonings. This not only educates consumers about pork’s versatility but also sparks meal planning ideas.”

Finally, clear labeling with information on cuts, safe cooking methods, and nutritional content adds another layer of confidence, allowing consumers to make informed choices. “By creating engaging and informative displays, supermarkets can enhance the shopping experience and drive sales of pork products,” Newman said.

Packaging patterns

Prairie Fresh designs packaging with consumer wants and needs in mind, utilizing clear packaging to better showcase the spices and marinades that encompass a pre-seasoned cut of pork.

“With images of finished product right on the label, customers will see what their pork can look like, enabling them to shop with confidence,” Barnett said. “While bold colors and graphics are crucial to catching the eye, being able to give the consumer a clear picture of what the end-product looks like is important.”

Today’s consumers are increasingly drawn to pork due to its taste, nutrient-rich profile, lean fat content, versatility in culinary applications, and sustainability credentials, and it’s no surprise that the category is booming.

“In the past year, the pork category has displayed robust performance, with supply expected to surpass levels from the previous year, particularly in the summer and fall seasons,” Newman said. 

“Market forecasts indicate a steady increase in pork supply, driven by strong demand both domestically and in export markets. Futures markets have responded positively to this outlook, with prices reaching new highs.”

This article is an excerpt from the June 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Pork Trends feature and more in the digital edition here.