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When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Eat Meat

By Jennifer Shike, Farm Journal

- Reprinted with permission from PORK magazine (May 18, 2021)

- Photos and graphics courtesy of Jennifer Shike

There’s no question the pandemic has changed the way consumers shop, cook and eat. And reflecting on the past year, Kiersten Hafer from One Mind LLC, says, “It's safe to say when the going gets tough, the tough eat meat.”

Before the pandemic hit, the meat department was down 0.1 percent in pounds and pork was down 0.8 percent in pounds. But in 2020, the retail meat case took off. Meat sales increased 11 percent by volume, with pork leading the way over beef, chicken and turkey, up 11.9 percent.

Why? Hafer says for pork specifically, not only is it in more households now, but consumers are buying pork more frequently.

“Lunch and dinner are driving the increase and with consumers cooking more meals at home, they're definitely looking for a variety. We also found that consumers’ confidence and knowledge of meat and cooking more cuts has become stronger over the last year. We think that this lockdown trend will continue throughout 2021 and likely into 2022,” Hafer says.

A year into the pandemic, 43 percent of shoppers are still purchasing more meat than they did pre-pandemic and 42 percent are still buying different cuts, she says.

“We're excited about the fact that they're experiencing more pork and going deeper into the meat case. We found that pork is definitely leading the variety conversation with the number of cuts that are available, the recipes that offer variety and the overall taste,” Hafer explains.

Return to Restaurants

How will consumers returning to restaurants affect pork demand? Hafer believes with all of the newfound cooking skills developed in the past year that consumers will balance those new favorite dishes they are making at home with dining out and takeout from their favorite restaurants.

“They'll look to restaurants for healthful eating, comfort foods, spicy and global foods and flavors. We definitely think pork plays an important role in that key trend,” she says. “I believe pork being on menus and the fantastic eating experience that people have had at home with pork, will bring people back to restaurants as food service reopens.”

Innovation will be key for the food service industry. Neal Hull, director of channel marketing at the National Pork Board, says he’s optimistic food service is on the road to recovery as vaccines continue to roll out and restrictions ease.

“We know there's this pent-up demand amongst consumers. While we have these newfound cooking skills, we are also really eager and anxious to get out,” Hull says. “What restaurants are trying to do is differentiate because they're now competing with those new cooking skills at home and they're really innovating to try to stand out and drive traffic to their locations.”

One example is IHOP’s new bacon obsession menu that was launched on April 13. This menu offers four new items, including a steak house premium bacon, a steakhouse premium bacon burger, candy bacon pancakes and a maple bacon milkshake.

IHOP’s vice president of culinary and R&D commented that bacon is IHOP’s French fries. Since 50 percent of IHOP customers order bacon, the company wants to take that to the next level, Hull explains.

“The chain is really capitalizing on consumers’ love for the popular breakfast meat, but they're expanding the usage to all day. IHOP is the first national family dining restaurant to serve an item like this, usually only found in white tablecloth or fine dining settings,” he says.

The National Pork Board is excited to be partnered with them, he adds. The iconic blue pork logo is included in all of IHOP’s point-of-sale materials, both in restaurant, online and in all their social media posts.

“Bacon has been huge in food service over the last decade. It's on everything – it’s in salads, it's on burgers,” Hull says. “I think what IHOP is doing is trying to differentiate even the product itself, they've gone to a thicker bacon on the regular offering and added this steakhouse bacon which is five times thicker. I mean, it's literally a bacon steak. I think restaurants will continue to do that.”

Make Pork Routine

Hafer says she’s excited to see more interaction from Gen Z and Millennial shoppers embracing new cuts of pork and coming back for more. Ground pork, shoulders and chops have been the big sellers, as well as ribs.

“They’re grilling more and smoking more meats at home and really enjoying the eating experience,” she says. “Hopefully we can hold on to these new households and younger consumers.”

One of the keys to this is helping people bring pork into the fold, she explains. Consumers typically have six to 10 meal items that are in the rotation and routine. She believes getting new recipe ideas out, in addition to educating about proper cooking methods and ease of preparation are important ways to help make pork routine in more households.

Hull agrees that it’s more important than ever to promote pork as a healthy, tasty, lean protein source.

“We’ve got to make pork more approachable for the consumer,” he says. “We got them during the pandemic, now we just have to create that stickiness to keep them.”


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