Ground pork is trending. According to Numerator data from the National Pork Board, 45% of ground pork shoppers today were not purchasing ground pork in the prior 12 months.
Sales have skyrocketed, increasing 27% from March through July with some weekly increases of 69% in the early pandemic buying period. During this time, ground pork has brought in the highest percentage of new shoppers to the ground segment compared to other ground meats.
“I don’t know if I’d call it a renaissance, but It’s definitely one of those times where we’ve seen more consumers try it and like it, which is awesome,” says Neal Hull, director of channel marketing at the National Pork Board.
What does this mean for the pork industry? Hull says it’s a brand marketer’s dream to have a 45% jump in households purchasing a product. But he’s not surprised. Ground pork plays well into so many recipes and flavors.
“One of the things we’ve seen through the pandemic is people are shopping different and clearly eating more meals at home. People are looking for variety,” Hull says.
Research shows that nine out of 10 people say they’ll buy ground pork again, Hull says. An early hypothesis suggested the increase was due to empty meat shelves, but data shows people were going to the stores with the intention of buying ground pork to use in a recipe.
“They had it on a shopping list for a specific recipe that they were making, which is huge news for the category,” Hull says. “The recipes that comes to the top were meatballs and meatloaf. But there are also many other dishes from a multicultural standpoint, like egg roll bowls or wonton wraps that have surged in popularity.”
The Pork Checkoff has been “putting a full court press on” packers and retailers, making sure they are aware of the opportunity ground pork presents and making sure that product is getting merchandised so when that consumer comes back to buy it, they can find it on the shelf, Hull explains.
“We’re on a journey with ground pork,” he says. “This isn’t a ‘we’ve identified a situation and we’re going to fix it and move on to the next thing.’ This will be a continuing dialogue with everybody in the supply chain from the packer to the retailer to the food service operator. Ultimately, it’s a great opportunity for pork as we continue to penetrate households.”
One of ground pork’s biggest challenges from a retail standpoint is inconsistency in where its merchandised in store or if it’s even merchandised at all. Hull says data shows if consumers aren’t finding it in one store, they’ll go to another retailer until they find it.
“We’re continuing to have those dialogues with our retail partners and we’ve actually had some dialogue where the packers have been at the table with us, too,” he says.
Younger consumers are hitting the kitchen and trying new recipes right now. Ground pork’s versatility and flavor are appealing to this audience, Hull says. In the end, they are pleased with their purchase and go back for more.
The key is helping consumers find it. Some stores merchandise it with the grind set, which is Hull’s preference because it allows consumers to decide which grind they want by comparing their options of grind: beef, pork or chicken. Others merchandise it with the pork set.
“It has to be visible. Don’t hide it on the top shelf in the corner and then wonder why it doesn’t sell,” he says. “Let’s put it front and center in a high traffic area. We’re working on some ideas with different retailers to encourage them to merchandise a set around it.”
Retail pork sales have definitely been a bright spot for producers this year.
“We know it’s been tough a tough year for farmers. The good news is pork sales have been really strong at retail. Hopefully, we keep all those consumers as part of the family,” he says.
Pig Progress | Jennifer Shike | August