The continued growth of the pork industry has made it the envy of food marketers for decades, and, come 2017, it shows no signs of letting up.

Pork sales climbed 20 percent over the past six years according to the Washington Post, and, by the end of 2018, U.S. farmers are expected to produce as much pork as beef – an unprecedented “score” for the industry. As of June 1, the nation’s hog and pig inventory – a reflection of global demand — was the highest on record.

Clearly, there’s a lot the pork industry is doing right, and a lot we food marketers can learn from its example. Here are a few bits to chew on:

Heed the herd – If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re familiar with the Pork Board’s “Other White Meat” campaign. What you may not know is that the highly successful, multi-decade campaign was born out of astute observations about meat sales and consumption trends.

In the mid-80s, chicken consumption was growing rapidly, and pork’s share of the consumer’s plate was dropping. In 1987, experts predicted chicken would outplace pork as consumers #2 preferred meat. (New York Times).

To the pork industry’s credit, it did not “sit tight” and wait for the tides to turn. It took bold and targeted action by launching a campaign aimed squarely at chicken lovers, positioning pork as an equally appealing, versatile and nutritious white meat.

Knowing its promotional budget was a fraction of that of beef and that it would be tough to compete, the Pork Board focused its efforts with purpose, highlighting only fresh pork, and targeting a limited number of markets rather than spreading media dollars too thin on a national scale (New York Times).

 

 

Don’t get fat and happy – The Pork Board’s “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaign launched in 1987 and ran for 18 (!) years. During that time, per capita consumption of pork rose from 45.6 pounds in 1987, to 48.5 pounds in 2003. Meanwhile, per capita consumption of beef, a major pork competitor, declined steadily from 69.5 pounds in 1987 to 62 pounds in 2003. (New York Times).

But the pork folks did not let themselves get fat and happy. They continued to gather input from target consumers and to critically evaluate the campaign’s impact. In 2005, fueled by more research and insights, the Pork Board adopted a new strategy for addressing new barriers to demand growth.

Women in its target audience were saying they perceived pork as ”grandma’s Sunday dinner,” so pork evolved its campaign to “Pork. The Other White Meat. Don’t Be Blah,” reminding these women that pork provided attractive dinner alternatives to the “same old, same old.”

 

Regardless how you feel about “Don’t Be Blah,” it was wise for the Pork Board to shift direction as it began to face new demand challenges. It did the same thing again in 2011, when it introduced “Be Inspired.” Also wise was the board’s decision to retain “The Other White Meat” as a heritage brand, using the equity it had built over the previous 18 years to lend credibility to its newer messaging.

Know where your team goes to trough – We live in a time when half of every food dollar is spent on food consumed outside the home. Years ago, the Pork Board recognized the foodservice channel’s potential and began working behind the scenes with operators to get more, and different, cuts of pork onto menus. It has promoted the benefits pork offers to foodservice through advertising, digital, educational initiatives, event marketing and trade shows, among others.

So, is it just coincidence that pork has been the fastest-growing protein in foodservice since 2011? Or  that, over the past six years, pork use has grown more than double that of chicken (the next fastest growing protein) and increased by 1.145 billion pounds, while chicken use grew by 515 million pounds (Pork Board 2017)?

In my opinion, while pork has certainly ridden the tailwinds of recent food trends (bacon-mania, paleo diets and the proliferation of ethnic cuisine, to name a few), it couldn’t have enjoyed such great foodservice success without a purposeful strategy in place to do so. It’s one thing for chefs to be interested in menuing more of a product– it’s yet another for them to have access to resources that help them actually do it.

With more foodservice resources in development and chain restaurant partnerships popping up left and right (the Pork Board and Longhorn Steakhouse — a chain best known for gigantic servings of beef — just teamed up to feature a sous-vide pork chop), it looks like the industry will be working this trough for the long haul. Perhaps you should be too.