Forget that same-old chicken and chop meat. When it comes to answering the question “What’s for dinner?” an increasing number of consumers are finding that fresh pork fits the bill as an economical, delicious and nutritious protein.
Thinning of stocks due to skyrocketing feed costs coupled with a drop in exports because of concern in some foreign countries over swine flu—or the H1N1 virus as the pork industry and others refer to it—has led to a glut of pork in the system. That’s bad news for farmers, some of whom are unfortunately going under, but good news for astute retailers who can use pork as a recession-busting traffic builder and still make a pretty penny in the profit department during October’s National Pork Month and beyond.
“Pork has never, ever been a better value for consumers or retailers,” says Tom Blumhardt, vice president of marketing and value-added sales for Seaboard Foods, the Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based marketer of PrairieFresh All Natural, PrairieFresh ‘n Tender and PrairieFresh Prime pork brands.
“We are seeing a lot of retailers take advantage of the fresh pork pricing right now,” says George Wean, fresh business manager at Hatfield Quality Meats, a division of Clemens Food Group, based in Hatfield, Pa. “They are going to be very aggressive on running pork throughout National Pork Month all the way through December.”
Retailers should suggest consumers stock up their freezers, Wean says. “With the way the live prices and commodity-driven products are priced right now and with the way the economy is, this is something that should be taken advantage of,” he says.
“From a retailer’s perspective, pork is an amazing feature opportunity right now,” says Jarrod Sutton, assistant vice president of channel marketing for the Clive, Iowa-based National Pork Board. “Pork represents an incredible opportunity for retailers right now. You can buy quality pork products at a relatively low cost and you can sell it at a low cost, but still maintain a profitable margin. That’s where the real value for consumers comes in,” he says, adding that pork offers a chance to break from the routine.
“A lot of people eat ground beef and chicken,” Sutton says. “Pork obviously is something different and provides a new meal occasion as well as a terrific value.”
“Demand has been up for fresh pork from a consumer level,” says Kelly Perrier, brand manager for Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Meat Solutions. “We hope that trend will carry on and we’ll certainly do everything we can to further play to the needs of consumers.”
Processors and retailers need to team together to ensure that demand remains strong, Perrier says. “We find it most effective when we partner with the retailers that we have the closest relationships [with] to really drive demand not only at the case level, but at other areas of the store,” she says. “We certainly look to take our advertising beyond the packaging level and attract consumers and tie them with other events going on in the store.”
That’s being accomplished through a combination of point-of-sale materials, recipes and cross-merchandising ideas and the re-launching of Cargill’s Tender Choice Pork brand.
“Tender Choice Pork really plays into that whole idea of making things easier, more convenient and more consumer friendly,” Perrier says. Recipes, handling instructions and other information are listed on the pre-printed bag or on-pack label. “We follow that up at-shelf with recipes, cross-merchandising and our website,” she says.
BUILDING BRAND LOYALTY
Retailers can score extra sales by promoting brand-name pork products, says Hatfield’s Wean. “We have our logo on our fresh bag and when a retailer sets out a Hatfield pork loin against a clear bag or somebody else’s product, ours is picked up first,” he says. “Our blue, red and yellow logo is a dynamic throughout the industry, not only in our own little world here, but as far south as Florida, north to Maine and west to Chicago. When people see our branded product they find a lot of confidence and insurance in our fist-rate quality.”
Hatfield sources its hogs primarily from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. “With Hatfield you get consistency and freshness,” Wean says. “You’re going to see consistency within each box and within each load.”
The majority of Hatfield’s retail customers still cut in the backroom, but Wean sees growth in case-ready. “With the high cost of labor for retailers, whether a small independent or a huge chain, they are trying to minimize their labor force in the backroom,” he says. “We are aggressively working on case ready. That’s on the front burner.”
As the weather cools, consumers are looking for different meal ideas, suppliers note. National Pork Month is the ideal time to shift focus from ribs and other grill items that dominate the meat case during the summer to heartier roasts and chops, says Rick Parker, director of fresh pork marketing at Kansas City, Mo.-based Farmland Foods.
“We have a number of different items that are doing extremely well and we expect that to continue,” Parker says, citing the Farmland All Natural Fresh Pork line as one example. “Farmland All Natural Fresh Pork is available in both case-ready and vacuum packaged boxed pork that the retailer cuts up. We have a protocol we follow that includes early withdrawal from antibiotics and better quality genetics that create a better taste and appearance. The line is doing quite well. We continue to add customers and our customers on the program continue to see growth.”
Farmland is also expanding its Farmland Seasoned line of fresh pork tenderloins, loin fillets, ribs, roasts and chops in a variety of different flavors.
“We’ll be coming out with another large array of new flavors in the fall. There will be a big push,” Parker says. “They are especially popular with time-pressed people who want to do a little cooking, but want something that is virtually foolproof.”
The company’s lines will be supported with advertising. “We’re targeting the actual retail chains that carry our product,” Parker says. “We’re making use of radio selectively across the country, as well as some magazine and newspaper ads.”
Seaboard’s Blumhardt also sees continued growth in the higher-margin pre-seasoned section of the case. “Most everybody does pre-seasoned items, but we do ours a little bit differently than most guys,” he says. “Most companies are injecting the marinade to 30% so they can make it an exact weight item and then they are aggressively vacuum tumbling to so it can pick up that much more moisture. That really degrades the quality of the meat eating experience.”
But one area where Blumhardt sees declining demand is in the organic sector. “In an economic downturn it is every man and woman for themselves and all of a sudden this demand for organic has really died down,” he says. And when it comes to concern over the carbon footprint, organic may not be the way to go.
“Because organic animals do not grow as fast, they take longer to produce. As a result, organic animals put out about 20% more effluent than those raised under current conventional agricultural practices.”
The improved value on fresh pork is also carrying over to the bacon and sausage case. Cody Lane, president, Pederson’s Natural Farms, a Hamilton, Texas-based supplier of natural processed pork, prides himself on the fact that his company uses antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed, humanely raised pork that is processed without preservatives. “We feel that if we are spending the extra money for pork that is raised in this manner, why not carry it all the way through and have a clean product from start to finish?” he says.
Known for its apple wood smoked bacon, Pederson’s is expanding its repertoire to include honey cured, jalapeño and barbecue bacon, packed on 12-ounce “L-board” shingles. That line extension is going to help meat managers bring more bacon home to their departments.
“We sell more of the 12-ounce shingled L-boards than any of the big sizes. It’s easy for the consumer to buy it in that small of a volume,” Lane says. “The husband may want something spicy, like a jalapeño or peppered bacon and maybe the wife just wants regular bacon. This way they can mix it up.”