October is National Pork Month, and there’s much to celebrate as pork sales have been strong this year, following a continuing trend.
As cost of protein increases, particularly beef, pork has become more desirable at retail and gaining momentum.
“Lower price points for feature activity and a lower retail means less shrink if markdowns or throwaways are required,” said Luke LaPerriere, vice president of retail innovations for Perdue Premium Meat Company. “Case ready product is on trend right now because of the cost of labor at store level.”
Jim Wallace, senior director of fresh pork at Niman Ranch, noted there’s not another protein out there that has the diversity of use and taste across the entire carcass.
“While prices are obviously up this year due to commodity markets and the grain market, pork still offers great value and versatility,” he said.
Jim Rogers, senior vice president of sales at Creekstone Farms, noted consumers are increasingly interested in health, which bodes well for pork.
In fact, 40 percent of shoppers want to see more claims like “no added hormones,” “raised without antibiotics” and “all-natural” in the retail meat case, according to the 2022 Power of Meat report.
“Additionally, consumers often turn to brands they know and trust in times of uncertainty as a way to reduce their purchasing risk,” Rogers said. “This applies to both name brands and private labels. Fresh pork stands out from other meats, with 88 percent of pork products branded in 2021.”
Responding to trends
Kent Harrison, vice president, fresh meats marketing and premium programs for Tyson Foods, notes whether cooking up brats on the grill at a tailgate or making a pork roast around the holidays, meals are about both socialization and comfort and pork is a flavorful, versatile mealtime foundation.
“We’re always exploring ways to help our retail partners meet their shoppers’ needs,” he said. “Category staples like sausage, ribs, chops and roasts will always be near and dear to consumers’ hearts.”
Tyson Foods offers products to cater to specific consumers to help invigorate the category, such as its minimally processed Open Prairie Natural Pork products and the recently introduced Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork case ready line for an elevated experience.
“Products from that line include the New York Pork Chop, Ribeye Chop and Pork Tenderloin Medallions,” Harrison said.
Patrick Fleming, brand specialist at Midan Marketing, noted that as we head into the back-to-school months, many families still want to eat at home but have less time, so value added and pre-flavored pork provide a solution.
“Ground pork is one of the fastest developing sectors in the pork industry,” he said. “Ground meat helps stretch family budgets, and value-conscious consumers are realizing pork is a good option. Ground pork offers a different flavor than ground beef but still yields great versatility to recipes. Additionally, prices for cuts like ribs have leveled out, and consumers will likely be increasingly interested in pork tenderloin as we head into the holiday season.”
Consumers have spent the last few years cooking at home, and they are seeking new entrees to freshen up their meal plans. Pork brings great cooking versatility, from marinating to smoking to incorporating flavorful cuts like bacon into dishes.
“At Creekstone Farms, we capture the health-conscious consumer interest with our Natural Duroc Pork, which is raised without antibiotics or added hormones, 100 percent vegetarian fed, and contains no artificial ingredients,” Rogers said.
Wallace noted that Niman spiral hams are always a good fall/early winter option, especially with turkey prices being what they are.
“We have a well-balanced business, so for us, we are seeing strong pull across the entire carcass,” he said. “We are continuing to evaluate new grind and sausage flavors based on the success we are seeing in this category. Our Fat Tire and Voodoo Ranger craft beer sausages have been moving well.”
While pork consumers do tend to skew towards the older demographic, as we look toward the future of pork as a category, great opportunity lies with Millennial and Gen Z segments.
“They are willing to experiment while cooking pork,” Fleming said. “While older generations tend to lean more toward cooking pork until it is fully white, younger generations are willing to experiment in the kitchen to have a better eating experience, such as cooking medium rare pork chops.”
Keeping pork top of mind with consumers when they’re planning their meal is essential.
“Pork tends to be a more planned purchase for consumers—they need a nudge,” Fleming said. “Showcasing pork in the weekly advertisement rotation is more important than just providing a discount. Frequency of adds, in-store point-of-sale materials and online and digital platforms can keep pork at the top of consumers’ shopping lists.”
The most important message stores should be getting out when marketing pork are not to overcook and highlighting the nutritional value and flavor of pork. After all, pork is called the other while meat because the nutritional value is comparable to poultry.
“It is a lean nutritional protein that adds variety to the menu,” said JD Enrici, vice president of sales for Coleman Natural Foods. “Consumers have also learned over the years not to overcook pork since the USDA lowered the internal recommended temperature to 145.”
Harrison noted people tend to be more intentional when they purchase pork than other fresh meats, so retailers have a great opportunity to tell a story beyond a sales price to inspire shoppers to put pork in their baskets.
Creekstone Farms provides a variety of point-of-sale materials to catch the eye of consumers and educate shoppers.
“We believe strongly in supporting our retail partners and walk with them every step of the way, from ensuring timely and accurate order fulfillments to supporting shopper marketing efforts,” Rogers said.
Pork is a great substitute for beef during inflationary times, Wallace said, as it elevates a meal but keeps it affordable—and this is something that should be included on marketing materials.
“We have had a lot of earned media that supports our retailers in specific markets, along with social media and digital ads,” he said. “Niman does a great job partnering with our customers to tell our farmers’ stories and really highlight what makes our brand different. We have farmer ambassadors that love to go out to stores and do demos.”
Variety is very important in the pork category, as there are different sizes of roast—both bone-in and boneless, plus thick and thin cut chops, both boneless and bone-in. There’s also tenderloins, pork butts and more. Pork ribs, bone-in cuts and pork butts trend during summer grilling season.
So, supermarkets should be devoting a good amount of space to the category.
“Vertical in the multi deck meat case at least three of four feet is recommended,” Enrici said.
As we move into the fall, Fleming noted roasts become a more important item and take some of the incremental space that ribs have had in the summer.
“There are of course cook-in-bag ribs that offer potential for kids who are cooking during the weeknights,” he said. “However, roasts will be especially popular, first in fall and then as consumers seek to fill their holiday tables. A Frenched rack of pork also performs well at the holidays and still provides value to consumers.”
As case-ready packaging evolves, Wallace expects to see higher demand from conventional retailers looking to make sure they have convenient and healthy options for their customers.
Regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court decision on Prop 12, it’s clear that the demand for high animal welfare, crate-free pork is not going away.
Pork offers unique flavor—from bacon to sausage to fresh pork. Pork easily lends itself to recipe creation, since its flavor blends well with any dish. Additionally, pork is easy to cook. After reaching an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit and resting for three minutes, it is ready to be served. That makes it perfect for weekday meals, as well as weekend barbecues.
“For many cultures, such as Asian and Hispanic heritages, pork serves as a cultural touchstone for consumers looking to maintain the true flavor they get from their heritage and family,” Fleming said. “As we head into the holiday season, for many shoppers it just isn’t Christmas without pork tamales. That’s what brings families together.”