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Pork's here for the party

Pork part of Easter celebrations during pandemic, will continue to be served at fall, winter holiday gatherings.

"If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." That quote, attributed to Woody Allen, seems so fitting today in COVID-19 times.

My family had planned this week to travel for fastpitch softball to another community up the road, but cases of COVID-19 in that town and possible team exposures ruled out that event. I seem to have my eye on the sky more than ever before, to try to plan outings and get-togethers with family. However, living in South Dakota, where the expression, "if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes" rings so true, good-intentioned outdoor gatherings often can be canceled at the drop of a hat.

Right now, it seems our calendar is wide open, as we take this "new normal" day-by-day. Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are still on the docket, but how we celebrate those holidays may look a little different than years past.

But as a recent National Pork Board Insights to Action points out, we made it through Easter and pork was still part of the party.

Throughout the 2020 Easter promotion period of March 22 through April 12, more households bought pork and there was more ham purchased compared to last year's Easter season. Ham sales were up in all regions of the country, with the West and Midwest delivering the most growth year-over-year, increasing 27.5% and 12.9% respectively. Ham also saw more new buyers this year across the country, especially in the South, where 3.8% of ham buyers were new buyers.

Smaller celebrations this year meant there was increased demand for smaller portions. Boneless half, quarter and slices all increased year-over-year in both dollars spent and pounds sold. Boneless ham slice sales grew 132% compared to last year, while the number of quarter cuts sold jumped 41%.

Easter brunches at home also led to more sales of bacon and sausage (6.6 percentage point and 3.1 percentage point increases, respectively).

Now as lockdowns teeter-totter between being enforced and lifted across the country, Jason Menke, NPB director of marketing communications, says it is hard to say if these gatherings will look the same as Easter, but two trends will remain: the desire to celebrate and smaller portions.

"People want to get together with friends and family that they haven't seen in person for a very long time, but they are still a little leery," Menke says. "It's that dichotomy of 'really want to,' but at the same time, there's still a little caution."

Since the majority of these holiday gatherings, albeit smaller, will be celebrated at home, and may extend over several meals, retailers and foodservice operators may have to change portion size or up their marketing games to make sure consumers know how to fully utilize the larger products.

For example, smaller ham cuts can help consumers provide a center-of-plate protein for holiday dinners, while sliced and diced options can meet breakfast, brunch and lunch needs. When smaller cuts are not available, retailers should consider marketing larger hams as a way for consumers to create multiple meal solutions with one purchase. Afterall, one ham can equate to five or six meal occasions. The key is to make sure they don't grow tired of it.

Retailers should remind consumers about day-after holiday brunches and encourage them to recreate their brunch favorites at home with bacon and sausage. Foodservice operators could also consider providing both dinner and heat-and-eat next-day brunch options for pick up or delivery.

I hope we can see more family during this upcoming fall and winter holiday season, but know wherever, or however we celebrate, the world's most popular protein will be part of our party.

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