Pork purchasing activity is down. But the protein category is far from out.
With an average price per pound of $3.14, up 10.3% over the last year, pork volume sales fell 9.4% for the 52 weeks ending March 20, 2022, versus the year-earlier period, reported Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a Chicago-based market research firm. Despite that sales drop, pork merchandisers still are in strong position to boost buying, said Chris DuBois, IRI senior vice president of the protein practice.
“Pork is one of the most underdeveloped protein types for most retailers,” he said. “The retailers will typically just shelve the pork and forget about it versus trying to create great new opportunities and educating consumers.”
Consumer education is among the creative merchandising opportunities for retailers in the pork category. (Photo courtesy of 201 Analytics)
Operators can make pork more alluring by offering a wider variety of options instead of limiting selections to such basics as pork chops, tenderloins and ribs, DuBois said. That includes carrying ground pork and merchandising it in a ground meat section that also contains ground beef, chicken and turkey to make the grinds easier for shoppers to locate, he suggested.
Ground pork dollar sales already are on the upswing, with revenues increasing 5.7% over the last year versus 3.9% for pork shoulder; 1.2% for pork ribs and a 2.2% decline for pork loin, IRI reported.
“Pork gives retailers the potential for a lot of merchandising creativity, but it suffers from the middle-child syndrome,” DuBois said. “It doesn’t get enough attention and there still is an awful lot that can be developed.”
Focus on premium pork
Premium offerings, meanwhile, also are becoming more popular. Downers Grove, Ill.-based Fresh Thyme Market, which operates 71 stores in 10 states, is seeing greater sales of such value-added pork items as sea salt shoulder roasts and marinated tenderloins, said Jason Resner, vice president, fresh merchandising. “People who started cooking more at home during the COVID-19 pandemic are seeking additional options and experimenting with different items,” he said.
Many consumers also are willing to pay more for the premium selections, Resner noted.
“Valued-added customers are gravitating toward the uniqueness and variety versus price,” he said. “They are looking for different selections to spice up their evening meals as they are having more of them at home. Even with pricing volatility, many shoppers still view pork as a fresh protein value.”
Fresh Thyme spotlights such product attributes on packaging as being humanely raised without the use of gestation crates and being free of antibiotics and growth hormones during development. The retailer offers Hatfield, Pa.-based Clemens Food Group’s Fresh Promise-branded pork.
Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle Inc. is expanding its premium pork selections as well, which includes offering additional marinated options and higher-grade pork at its more than 216 supermarkets in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana, said Tony Hatok, senior director of meat merchandising. Giant Eagle is using in-store signage to spotlight the newer options, along with vendor-branded dividers that call out marinated pork, he noted.
In addition, SpartanNash Co., the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based grocery wholesaler and operator of nearly 150 supermarkets in nine Midwestern states, is experiencing a “marked uptick” in sales of seasoned and marinated products, as well as whole pork shoulders and half-boneless loins at its upmarket stores, said Tim Kent, director of meat and seafood.
Boosting pork’s profile
Growing the customer base is the biggest pork merchandising challenge, Kent noted.
“While pork is a relevant product, it falls behind beef and chicken in consumption,” he said, adding, however, that “pork supply is ample and the cost is a perceived value, so consumers are picking it up.”
IRI’s DuBois noted that retailers will be in better position to spur greater activity by attaching messages to packages that spotlight product health benefits, such as grams of protein, using in-store signage to highlight product attributes and distributing recipes.
“People make very quick decisions when they are in the store and getting more of their attention with signage is a big deal,” he said.
By enhancing shopper interest in pork, retailers also will be able to help spread purchasing activity across the different proteins and reduce the prospect of out-of-stocks for a particular meat category, said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics LLC, a San Antonio-based market research and marketing strategies firm.
“People are creatures of habit and routine dominates the meat purchase,” she said. “But shoppers also get bored with eating the same old thing. That is typically when people head to restaurants to shake up their dinner lineup.” By offering a wide range of pork options, retailers can make in-home dining even more appealing, she noted.
Educating consumers on the attributes of specific options will further boost sales activity, Roerink said, noting that online marketing can be particularly effective.
“It is not easy for individual cuts to stand out in the sea of pork items,” she noted. “People don’t understand the differences in eating experiences between the cuts and consumer education in the meat case is not easy to do.”