Jarrod Sutton, vice president of domestic marketing for the National Pork Board, thinks about pork all the time, and not just about eating it. He’s thinking about consumers’ perceptions and food service opportunities, new marketing channels and proper cooking temperatures. He’s thinking about producer profitability and what people are saying about pork on social media. And he’s been thinking about it for the 18 years he’s been on staff with NPB.
During that time, he’s seen how much more interested consumers have become in how their food is produced, and how much more transparency they demand.
“Questions about production are here to stay,” he says. “Thankfully, as an industry we’ve been thinking and talking about this for a long time in a very open, transparent and collaborative way.”
Sutton has had a number of meetings in the last few months where companies are asking thoughtful questions about sow housing. Instead of demanding certain practices based on pressure from activist groups, they want to know about gestation stalls and why are they used. They want to know what the industry is considering moving forward, and they’re asking about antibiotic use in livestock production.
McDonalds, for example, uses the phrase, ‘Leveraging our scale for good’, and their scale is significant with the sheer volume number of restaurants they have, Sutton explains.
“If they make changes in their supply chain, it’s going to have a big impact on that industry,” he says, “so leveraging their scale for good as it relates to antibiotics specifically refers to responsible sourcing to ensure effectiveness of human antibiotics for the future.”
There are a lot of ways you can unpack that information, Sutton says, but the message is consistent across the food landscape. Consumers – and food-company customers – are trying to understand more about how antibiotics are used in pork production.
“That’s a good thing,” Sutton says. “We can have that conversation and help them comprehend what’s used, why and how it’s used, the veterinarian oversight provided, and the rules and regulations that are in place. All of this instills confidence in those customers.”
It also serves the purpose of helping companies understand consumers’ perspectives.
“By investing in generating data and insights as part of our efforts to build the comprehensive demand landscape for pork, we are finally getting a solid understanding for who is buying what: how, when and where they’re buying, and most importantly, why they’re buying a product,” Sutton says. “We need to know from the value consumer all the way to the premium consumer, how they’re thinking about their food needs, and how pork currently fit into those needs. That helps us know how we’re delivering based on the products we currently offer, or identifying if there opportunities for us to focus on new innovations that can help us realize new, profitable growth as a result of those innovations.”
Sutton notes that one shouldn’t assume every food company – or any consumer, for that matter – is focused as holistically on the industry as the National Pork Board is.
“There are real issues and challenges, real to-do lists for everyone inside our industry, up and down the supply chain,” he says. “Our opportunity is to look at the pork industry holistically and be thinking about it in the long term, identifying what’s around that next corner and what’s over that next mountaintop.”