High on the Hog

Rising consumption and innovative new products are boosting pork sales and margins.

By Richard Turcsik

Fewer little piggies are going to market than last year. That’s not only pleasing to the porkers, but retailers too, as prices are holding steady and consumption is growing, driven by brand names, innovative new cuts and prepared and semi-prepared products. According to the National Pork Board, pork herd and harvest are down slightly from last year—when there was a glut in the market—but more consumers are choosing pork because it is still a good value.

“Right now we are experiencing high cut-out values, so pork demand is up,” says Patrick Fleming, director of retail at the National Pork Board, based in Clive, Iowa. “It has been a good year on the profitability side for producers, packers and retailers, and that is going to continue.”

Sales are also getting a lift as more retailers switch their pork case to name brands that consumers know and trust.

“We’re very proud of the Hormel brand and spend over $30 million [annually] to support the Hormel brand throughout the store, and there are positive benefits that point out to the fresh meat case,” says Jeff Baker, director of marketing, fresh pork, at Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods. “The fact that we support the brand is a key reason why a retailer would want to support or carry the Hormel product. We take pride in the fact that our pork loins look great all the time.”

Hormel has also been boosting sales by emphasizing pork breast fillet and cap steak, two relatively new cuts created by the National Pork Board, as well as promotions with sister brands, like Country Crock side dishes.

JBS might not ring a bell with consumers, but its brand names sure do. The Greeley, Colo.-based company markets Swift, Swift Premium, Swift Guaranteed Tender Pork, Swift 1855 Premium Fresh Pork, and Swift La Herencia, a line of pork marketed to Hispanic consumers.

“We always have new promotions going on,” says Rick Parker, marketing director. “We have a promotion going on in the fall with a variety of our newer value-added items, like our Swift seasoned pork ribs and our seasoned and marinated tenderloins, loin fillets and our Slow Cookers roasts products designed to be cooked in a Crock Pot.” During the summer it makes excellent pulled pork sandwiches, while during the winter it can be served as a hearty pork pot roast, Parker notes.


Retailers can expect good promotions on pork this fall. Historically, there’s a boost in supply during October as more animals are harvested boosting supply, and this year is no exception. Promotions, paid for by Pork Checkoff dollars, also increase as the weather turns cooler.

“We have an October campaign built around Crock Pot cooking called Crocktoberfest,” notes Fleming. “Shoulders work best when it comes to making pulled pork, but any cut of pork works well in a Crock Pot,” he says, adding that other promotions are also on tap. “We have a family gathering holiday program that we’re running for the holidays. There is always something available for retailers, plus we do a lot of custom work with the larger retailers.”

Retailers should also keep an eye out for what is happening in the foodservice channels, Fleming says. This summer Burger King launched a bone-in rib product and Golden Corral had an all-you-can-eat rib promotion. “Both of them put a substantial amount of media behind their promotions, and we saw a lift at retail,” Fleming notes. “When you hear ribs mentioned 100 times you’ll go out and buy ribs. That is one of those cases where foodservice really did go drive some sales at retail.”

Upscale retailers such as Bristol Farms and Metropolitan Markets are boosting their pork sales by stocking Snake River Farms Kurobuta pork, sourced from Berkshire hogs and prized for its highly marbled rich flavor. “In commercial pork, a lot of the flavor has been bred out,” says Jay Theiler, executive director, marketing, at
Boise, Idaho-based Agri Beef Co. “Kurobuta pork has been called the return of highly flavorful pork.”

Correctly merchandised, Theiler says Kurobuta pork can attract more users to the meat case, and the store itself. “It is a premium product,” he says. “It is ideal for retailers looking for a two-tiered program where they have a regular pork program and then a smaller upscale specialty program.”

Many retailers are reaching out to Hispanic and other ethnic consumers with Cargill’s Rumba line. Developed specifically for ethnic consumers and their unique dishes, the Rumba pork line consists of jowls, split front feet, tails, heart, neck bones, maws (stomachs), ears, kidneys, fatback skins, hocks and liver.

“Rumba is launching its first-ever on-pack promotion beginning in mid-October,” says Donna Niles, associate brand manager, pork marketing at Minneapolis-based Cargill. “Just in time for the holidays, consumers will have the opportunity to peel off the Rumba product label and enter to win exciting cash prizes that include $5,000 and $100 awards. Select packages will also include a $1-off instant-redeemable coupon for their purchase. The Rumba brand will be supporting the promotional effort in select markets with in-store and market-level support.”

Hamming it up

Department sales are also getting a boost from smoked hams and other prepared products. Lincoln, Neb.-based Cook’s Ham, a division of Smithfield Foods, has introduced Maple Cured Spiral Sliced hams. Cured with real maple sugar, the hams offer consumers a rich, sweet maple flavor in every bite, right down to the bone, according to company officials. Ready-to-eat, they come with Cook’s famous Ham Glaze and Dipping Sauce, and feature an easy, peel-off label that contains complete, easy-to-read instructions.

Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee is expanding its footprint in the meat case with Jimmy Dean Fully Cooked Hearty Sausage Crumbles. “It is just as if you took our roll sausage and cooked it in a pan and were going to use it for a recipe, but we’ve done all the work for you,” says Daryl Gormley, general manager, breakfast and snacking. “It’s fully cooked and incredibly easy to use. You just shake it out into an omelet or on a pizza.”

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