Chipotle-Glazed Ham with Cherry-Jícama Salsa National Pork Board

Ham for all seasons: New research looks at how to increase whole-ham sales year-round

Pork Checkoff recently funded a study to find and eliminate barriers that are stopping consumers from enjoying whole-ham yearlong.

Source: National Pork Board

For many people, preparing a whole ham is one of their go-to choices for family gatherings on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but beyond holidays, whole-ham usually doesn’t make the shopping list. The Pork Checkoff recently funded a study to find and eliminate barriers that are stopping consumers from enjoying whole-ham yearlong.

“Holidays and ham go hand-in-hand for most consumers,” says National Pork Board President Jan Archer, Goldsboro, N.C. “And with new ham innovations, there are real opportunities to increase sales throughout the year.”

Six focus groups were held across the country in Boston, Chicago and Orange County, Calif., to gather input from both “foodies” and non-foodies. Additionally, 1,100 consumers also completed an online survey.

The findings clearly showed that taste issues are not what is holding back non-holiday whole-ham purchases, with the protein viewed as a savored meat. Many focus group participants became animated and engaged in conversations about preparing and consuming ham. Many described their enjoyment of leftover ham, as an important part of the whole-ham experience.

“What I love (about leftovers) is that late-night thing where you’re hungry and you go to the refrigerator and just get a slice of ham and eat it standing there … that is the best,” one participant says.

While enthusiastic about whole-hams, consumers in the focus groups and the online surveys say that it was for the holidays. This matches whole-ham consumer consumption data from previous years, according to Patrick Fleming, director of market intelligence and innovation for the Pork Checkoff.

When asked, most respondents could not recall seeing whole-hams in supermarkets outside of the typical ham holidays. They also did not recall seeing any summer ham promotions in their grocery store.

“To me, ham is a cold-weather comfort food, but I have also never thought about grilling it,” says another respondent. “Ham seems to be only available around Easter and Christmas.”

“The bottom line is that the issue is not with hams, but instead is with how whole-hams are marketed — or not marketed — outside of holiday seasons,” Fleming says. “When consumers don’t see it in stores, there’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality.”

The good news is that this presents new opportunities to grow the total pork category in sales and volume at the meatcase, Fleming says.

Some of the insights include:

• Cooking method — Over 90% of consumers say baking was the No. 1 method for preparing a ham.

“Consumers need to know that they can use other preparation methods, such as grilling, barbecuing, smoking and microwaving,” Fleming says.

• Prep time — Respondents said that they spend a significant amount of time preparing ham, with an average time of 2.55 hours for a whole ham. And 51% spend three to five hours or more preparing ham.

“These results show that most consumers still think of ham as ready-to-cook,” Fleming says. “We need to share that today, whole hams are precooked, need little prep and have drastically shorter cooking times, making this protein an easy choice for everyday meals.”

• Portion size — Respondents equated preparing a whole ham with feeding a large group for holidays.

“Today’s consumers are interested in smaller portions for everyday meal planning,” Fleming says. “Several national retailers are focusing on smaller ham sizes, providing a fit for smaller households and millennial shoppers. It is encouraging to see retailers embrace new ideas in ham merchandising.”

• New flavors — Respondents were intrigued with new flavor profiles for hams, identifying sweet and spicy flavoring as the most appealing. Some of the suggested flavors included fruit flavors, sriracha, hickory, sweet and spicy, jerked and cracked pepper.

“New ham innovations in supermarket meatcases are helping introduce whole-ham to a new generation of consumers,” says Archer. “Pork Checkoff will continue to work with our retail food partners to encourage whole-ham promotions throughout the year.” 

Click here to download an infographic highlighting the ham research insights.

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