What can we do to drive pork demand now?

National Pork Board Q4 support to include expansion into multicultural consumer marketing, retailer efforts with lapsed/light buyers and promotion for Firehouse Subs’ pulled pork sandwich.

Ann Hess, Content Director

October 12, 2023

7 Min Read
Courtesy of National Pork Board

With beef prices increasing and availability decreasing, why isn’t pork volume growing? What can we do to drive pork demand now? When will we see the impact of Pork Checkoff efforts?

Those are the top three questions Kiersten Hafer has been fielding recently from pork producers and industry stakeholders, and as vice president of strategy and domestic market development for the National Pork Board, she says those inquiries are top of mind for NPB’s staff and the board of directors as well. But there are opportunities for pork to regain its footing in retail and foodservice.

“It's about creating that long-term demand and that connection to pork that's going to sustain us and create a more stable base of sales and get out of the seasonal elements, the peaks and valleys sometimes that we experience against some of our portfolio,” Hafer says.

As for increased beef prices and pork sales volume’s stagnant growth, she says there are a lot of reasons for that. The stimulus package that came to an end impacted a lot of consumers. SNAP benefits were also reduced and 55% of consumers impacted by that reduction believe it’s going to impact the way they purchase meat.

“As they think about how they're now going to allocate the dollars they've got, and on average in 35 states, the reduction was about $95 a household. You know, 29% of those people said, ‘yeah, it's going to affect what I buy, the meat that I buy and how much I buy,” Hafer says.

Inflation is also an issue, but Hafer says there are still some bright spots in the current economic climate. For example, 86% of consumers are still cooking at home. While chicken is still the preferred choice, Hafer says there is an opportunity to help consumers understand that pork is a great mealtime opportunity to explore and discover and to get out of that routine or rut.

“They want convenient and we really have to bring pork into that positioning,” Hafer says. “We have to help them understand that pork can be convenient, although it may not be the first thing they think about. There are ways for us to really market to them with easy recipes. You know, a five ingredient, 30-minute dinner recipe as an example, or tying into current cooking appliances that they're using.”

Hafer says while pork is actually winning over some consumers from steak and ground beef, the industry is still losing to boneless chicken. “Boneless chicken continues to remain really strong and it continues to be a go-to and a comfort for consumers,” Hafer says.

So how can the industry build demand now? Hafer says it comes down to shopper marketing and retailer driven programs to drive immediate sales. An opportunity to go after share and buy rate and drive volume, the campaign brings pork into the forefront, with easy meal options, cross-selling within the portfolio and getting people from processed pork to the fresh pork case.

“We are leading with taste and flavor in everything we do. That's our opportunity to really disrupt everything else that's out there, breakthrough in a very busy time of year, and help consumers realize that pork could bring them something that they may have been missing or may be craving,” Hafer says.

“We're going to lead in all of our consumer messaging, in everything that we're doing in retail, with taste and flavor. We’re going to help them make their meal. We're going to remember that some of them are novice cooks, they're new or light pork users. We're going to help them cook with confidence.”

An initial effort on this front was NPB’s Win Bigger Blitz 1.0, that ran from May through Labor Day. The aim was to drive pork sales, specifically chops and ribs. While results are not available yet, the campaign has had a major outreach, Hafer says.

“It was really getting people to think about pork and incorporate it into all of their summer activities. It was focusing on the biggest opportunity markets where we knew there were retailers that could move a lot of volume and it was really about chops and ribs and winning all of those occasions,” Hafer says.

For those consumers that haven't purchased before or are light pork buyers, the focus was to get them to make one additional pork purchase. “It was going after lapsed buyers and people that perhaps haven't purchased pork in the last 12 months, and then those that were buying processed, they love bacon, they love sausage, but they really haven't made the leap over to the fresh side,” Hafer says.

The Win Bigger Blitz 2.0 aims to not only capture the holiday ham season, but also to move more consumers to fresh pork. The campaign, which will run from October through January, will also focus on ground pork and multicultural consumers.

So how does industry know what's working and what's not, especially when it seems the needle isn’t moving in pork’s direction right now?

“It's almost a scenario where we're in the middle of the ocean trying to create the waves and we have a lot in market and we're evaluating what we do on an individual tactic basis, but we may not be seeing it show up on the shores yet with the large waves hitting the beach,” Hafer says.

“What we can promise you is that we will evaluate and bring you these results and help you understand where things are working. You know, with multicultural consumers, with a lot of the retail and shopper executions, with the nutrition work that we're doing, with everything that we're doing in the social media realm, we'll share with you where we've invested and what they've been able to return. But it's going to take a little bit of time for us to be able to create those massive waves.”

For example, the growth in ground pork didn’t happen overnight. The campaign, now in year four, is still going strong with packers, processors and retailers, Hafer says.

 “There's a huge shift in the ground pork landscape because of what we've done and we're just starting to see it pay off and we're continuing to see it pay off,” Hafer says. “2019 to 2022 we had some pretty extreme growth. Now I like to focus more on the volume because that's really where we know we have delivered. And if you think about the last couple of years we have grown from 2019 pretty significantly into 2022 and year-to-date we're looking pretty good as well. So that gives us the confidence that the things that we're doing and how we're going out and impacting retail are working and we just have to stay with them.”

It's also important to note NPB is not just centered on retail, but also working in the food service space, Hafer says. Firehouse Subs has recently brought back one of their best sellers, the King’s Hawaiian Pork and Slaw Sandwich, after an eight-year hiatus. The product launched on Sept. 25 and will be available through the end of the year, at over 1,200 locations in 46 states. Checkoff funds will be used to support in-store point-of-purchase with the PORK logo on window clings and posters, menu panels, mailers, the Firehouse Subs app, email blasts and social media posts.

As for continued support in Q4, NPB’s focus is on driving demand now. In addition to another Win Bigger Blitz, more funding has been placed into multicultural consumer marketing to expand to all top 10 Hispanic and African American markets. Retailer specific efforts will continue to concentrate on lapsed and light buyers.

“We've got great relationships. We’re out there advocating on behalf of U.S. pork producers and making sure that it becomes part of the solution as those meat leaders are making decisions about what to feature and how to feature it,” Hafer says. “We are actually bringing a lot of supply chain partners together in two weeks for our fall retail advisory council meeting and we'll be sharing with them not only these programs, but our consumer strategy and multicultural strategy and how we can go after the next generation pork consumer.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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