How Does a Pandemic Impact Consumer Demand for Pork?

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 Everyone knows that market disruptions and difficult decisions have been weighing heavily on producer minds. But has this impacted consumers?

“We've been able to provide incredible amounts of protein at reasonable prices through the U.S. in the middle of the biggest supply chain disruption we've ever seen in our history,” says Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board. “That speaks volumes about the U.S. production system. Things are not perfect, but even with all the problems we've experienced, we've been able to respond as farmers and as a food industry.”

Fortunately, most consumers aren’t aware of the industry’s challenges. Angie Krieger, vice president of domestic marketing at the National Pork Board, says consumers outside of major pork producing regions don’t have the pork industry’s concerns on their radar. Demand for pork has been exceptional this year and the National Pork Board has been continuing to invest energy to make sure that demand continues.

Consumer trends at home
“Consumers have bought large amount of meat, particularly pork, and they've got it in the refrigerator and in their freezers,” Even says. “We've seen that sales of deep freezes have really skyrocketed as people have realized that they want to make sure that they’ve got a place to store meat in their home.”

In addition to having more meat on hand, more people are learning how to cook for the first time. The National Pork Board has been sharing resources to help people find recipes on how to cook pork, select different cuts of pork and make sure that they cook it to the appropriate temperature.

“Ultimately, when consumers have a good experience eating pork now, they're going to continue to seek it later,” Even says.

Keeping the dialogue moving with consumers is more important than ever. One pork cut that is always a win is bacon, Krieger adds. 

Despite initial challenges with bacon sales when food service closed, consumers have been buying more bacon lately and retail sales have been strong, she says.

“We are positioning ourselves for the future,” Krieger says. “As a category, pork is going to be stronger than ever when we when we come out of this so, so we've just been really focused on consumers and being respectful of the producers through that process.”

How will restaurants survive this crisis?
At this time, it’s still hard to estimate the true impact of COVID-19 on restaurants. Krieger says there are certainly trends that will drive the restaurant business coming out of the pandemic. 

Restaurants have had to make many changes in their operations to continue to be profitable. Many restaurants are moving to a smaller, more streamlined menu and curbside pickup. 

“Although people are venturing out a little more, there is still a hesitancy to dine in at restaurants,” Krieger says. 

Restaurants have been successful with carryout orders of “family-sized portions” that often include appetizers and a dessert, she explains. 

“A lot of restaurants have also capitalized on the idea of doing meals to go. For example, I'm going to go tonight and get this meal that's already prepared, but I can also order a meal kit that I can create tomorrow night, too,” Krieger says. “We believe a lot of those trends will stay in place and again, pork plays fantastically into a lot of that.”

A unique opportunity
It’s important the pork industry gets out and starts talking about pork as a brand, and how pork fits into the food system, Even says. 

“The advantage right now is we've got American consumers actually paying attention to the food system. I think that's a good thing. It gives our pork producers an opportunity to really tell their story while the American public is paying attention,” Even says. “Quite frankly, consumers are pretty interested in the basics and how they're going to get nutritious protein to their families.”

Krieger says the use of data has allowed the marketing team at the National Pork Board to be more strategic in how they are targeting pork outreach. They are focusing on that next generation of consumers and high population areas. 

“Twenty years ago, the radio, TV and billboard ads were just kind of a catch-all, throw it out there and hope the right people see it approach,” she says. “Now we've become much better at being able to strategize and think differently about how we reach the people that we want to reach in order to make sure consumers are putting pork in their shopping carts for the next 20-30 years.”

We know that nothing can replace World Pork Expo, but we will be uniting together June 1-6 for PORK Week across all of our Farm Journal platforms to elevate the important role the pork industry plays in feeding the world. Share your stories and post photos on social media using #PORKWeek to help us honor the pork industry. From “AgDay TV” to “AgriTalk” to “U.S. Farm Report” to and everything in between, tune in and join us as we acknowledge the most noble profession there is: feeding people.

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