Change is constant in the world of food production. Advances in technology have made raising pigs more efficient and have improved animal welfare. New state-of-the-art processing plants use less energy to produce more pork.

Change also is happening within our consumer base. The people who put pork on their plate are getting younger. They’re more diverse. They’re more connected to what’s happening in their neighborhood and across the globe than ever before.

“But we don’t understand enough about consumer attitudes and behaviors about pork,” said Jarrod Sutton, vice president of domestic marketing for the Pork Checkoff. “As the National Pork Board transitions to a business-to-business (B2B) marketing model, it’s important that we understand the full scope of pork preference and purchasing among U.S. consumers.”

At the center of the first phase of this transition is the most extensive gathering of consumer insights the Pork Board has undertaken.

“The Pork Checkoff has always done consumer research but never such an extensive project,” said Terry Wolters, chair of the Checkoff’s Domestic Marketing Committee.

“With the rapidly changing U.S. demographics, we needed to gain a full understanding of shoppers’ habits and preferences,” said Wolters of Pipestone, Minnesota. “We want to help the industry better position itself for the future.”

Of particular interest to the Pork Checkoff are the millennial and Hispanic consumer segments.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials – those born from 1982 to 2000 – total 83.1 million people, or 25 percent of the U.S. population, and outnumber baby boomers. Meanwhile, almost one in five people in the United States, or 55 million, is Hispanic, the largest ethnic minority.

“To understand future challenges and opportunities for pork domestically, it’s critical to better understand these key consumer segments,” Sutton said.

With the goal of building a deeper understanding of consumer attitudes and behaviors, the Checkoff began collecting insights in the fourth quarter of 2017 using data from several sources – online pork conversations, pork shopping behavior and focus groups.

Social Listening

If you want to figure out someone’s opinion about something, just take a look at what they post on social media. That’s what the Pork Checkoff did when it teamed with LRW-MotiveQuest to see what people have been saying about pork.

MotiveQuest looked at conversations on popular blogs, message boards and websites from January 2015 through October 2017.

“We wanted to get an honest, straightforward analysis of how people talk about pork online,” said Patrick Fleming, director of market intelligence for the Pork Checkoff.

“MotiveQuest looked at conversations, comments and posts about pork and other proteins, and gave us insights not only about what people were saying but also about which sites and message boards people were using to talk about pork,” Fleming said. “This provided context to understand how pork and pork products are being discussed.”

One finding that wasn’t a surprise when examining online conversations – everyone talks about bacon. More than 30 percent of online conversations about protein sources are about pork, and a third of those involve bacon specifically.

“Bacon, sausage and ham are driving the conversation online,” Sutton said. “When you look at what consumers are talking about, fresh cuts – chops, loins, roasts – aren’t top of mind. That’s an area we’re going to dive into to try to understand opportunities there.”

pork-shoppers

What’s in Your Cart?

It’s one thing to talk about pork, but sometimes what consumers say they do doesn’t always match up with their behavior.

To discover what is actually happening at checkouts, the Checkoff turned to InfoScout, a data analytics company that enlists shoppers to take pictures of their store receipts and upload them into InfoScout’s databases. InfoScout looks for trends based on the shopper’s demographics:

  • What pork products do they buy?
  • How often?
  • What portion size?
  • What other items do they buy when they buy pork?

“This is an incredibly powerful tool,” Fleming said. “It’s a much more accurate look at how consumers buy pork, and there’s no self-editing of any information. We know exactly what’s in shoppers’ carts when they buy pork.”

For example, InfoScout data discovered that millennial households with kids skewed more to wholesale clubs, whereas non-millennial parents skewed slightly to traditional grocery and retail stores. Older parents often had applesauce in their carts with pork, whereas millennials bought more frozen breakfast items.

These insights, according to Fleming, can help identify trends and opportunities for the Pork Checkoff’s stakeholders.

“There is so much data available to analyze today,” Fleming said. “The more we know about overall shopping habits, the more we can identify merchandising and promotional opportunities that will appeal to specific consumers.”

Focus Groups

In December 2017, the Pork Checkoff conducted eight focus groups to explore perceptions about pork among key demographic groups, including “unacculturated” Hispanics (older adults with a strong Spanish-language preference) and younger, bilingual millennials.

One key finding? “Pork” isn’t a unified meat protein category in the eyes of consumers.

“Across the board, these groups consistently consider bacon as its own category,” Fleming said. “There is bacon, fresh pork, ham and sausage. We’re unlike other commodities in that regard.”

With the disconnect, people in the focus groups were unaware of how much pork they were actually eating on a regular basis.

“Once you reminded them that the deli ham they ate on their sandwich, or the sausage and the pepperoni on their pizza was pork, a light went on with many of them,” Fleming said.

Next Steps

Gathering insights from the three distinctly different research methods will help the Pork Checkoff with the next phase of research – surveying more than 8,000 U.S. consumers about their buying attitudes, preferences and behaviors regarding pork.

“We’re excited about the survey work that will begin in early March,” Sutton said. “A typical opinion survey will sample about 1,000 people. By oversampling, we’re going to take a deep dive into key consumer categories. We’ll be able to analyze the Hispanic and millennial segments, looking at behaviors and opinions.”

He added, “The survey will be incredibly specific in terms of demographics and geographic locations. The insights are going to be of tremendous value to food producers, retailers and foodservice companies that we work with daily, ultimately adding value to pork producers.”

Q&A: A Shift in Strategy

The National Pork Board has been using a business-to-consumer advertising approach for over 30 years, but in 2017 the board voted to switch to a business-to-business consulting strategy.

Q: Why this fundamental change, and why now?

A: The key reason is the changing media landscape. Advertising has changed dramatically since 1987 when Pork. The Other White Meat® debuted. Back then, it was much easier to reach a broad cross-section of American consumers. Only three national TV networks existed, cable and satellite TV was not as prolific as it is now, and radio options were limited to nearby AM and FM radio stations.
Let’s also not forget the internet, social media and smartphones – they’re all game changers, too. In short, the vast media choices that exist today have fragmented the viewing and listening habits of the consumer.

Q: What about changes to the supply chain?

A: Rapid consolidation also has transformed the supply chain in recent years. Private labels provide consumers a name-brand experience at lower prices. New players such as Amazon have entered the food business in a way that will be disruptive to existing businesses.

Q: What is the Checkoff’s overall goal in switching to a B2B approach?

A: The Pork Board will take on a more expert, consultative approach to provide its supply chain partners with market insights, such as research focusing on consumer preferences and habits, to help get more pork in front of consumers to drive sales.

Tagline to Be Retired

In January, the National Pork Board voted to sunset the Pork Be Inspired marketing campaign. The Pork Checkoff introduced the tagline in 2011 to focus on the “creative cook.”

“From professional chefs to self-proclaimed foodies, it focused on pork’s versatility and flavor for an audience composed mostly of strong pork advocates,” said the Pork Checkoff’s Jarrod Sutton. “With the Checkoff’s change in marketing strategy from a business-to-consumer model to a focus on helping supply chain partners understand the consumer landscape through research, the time was right to say goodbye to the tagline.”

The familiar pork pic will continue to be used, but the tagline will be removed gradually, working with state pork associations, production companies and others.
“We want to do this efficiently but not add unnecessary expense to marketing and printing budgets,” Sutton said.