LIVE FROM MEATCON: Leading a Balanced Conversation
“We’re not out to change people’s minds, but we want to have a balanced conversation.”
So says Angela Anderson, communications manager for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, summing up her thoughts Monday on how the food industry can better communicate its message to consumers amid the cacophony of opinions and activists on social media.
Anderson and pig rancher Brad Greenway led “Communicating the Story to Consumers,” one of the concurrent workshops on the second day of the 2017 Annual Meat Conference, hosted by the North American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute, through Tuesday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.
Pork board research indicates that consumers expect retailers to know where food comes from and lead that conversation with them, with nearly three-quarters of those surveyed indicating that they “always/usually” trust food retailers, Anderson noted in her case study as an example to other product segments.
The pork board’s approach is to partner with retailers on telling the farmers’ stories, connect with consumers via retailers through point-of-sale and online materials,; and, coming later this year, reaching out directly to consumers.
The group hosts farm tours for retailers to foster a dialogue with farmers, and on-pack and POS QR codes link to microsites featuring videos with information about farm-level pork production.
Meanwhile, Greenway related, farmers contribute their stories, photos and thoughts online using the hashtag #RealPigFarming, and the website PorkCares.org answers questions for retailers and consumers about modern, humane farming practices.
The morning opened with the annual general session on commodity meat pricing from a slate of ag economists. Pork market analyst Steve Meyer, of Fort Wayne, Ind.-based EMI Analytics, noted that feed stocks are plentiful and production is on the rise across all species, indicating a continued easing of the high retail prices of the past few years resulting from drought conditions and culled herds.
Meat use parallels median household income, poultry economist Paul Aho explained, noting a drop in both heading into the last recession, and a subsequent rise into the new year. “As long as income continues to rise, meat sales will grow,” Aho said.
Responding to an audience question about growth in organic meats, the panel asserted that it would remain a niche category for the foreseeable future.
“It will continue to be a growing niche, but a small niche,” said beef analyst Randy Blach, CEO of Centennial, Colo.-based Cattlefax. Meyer agreed: “For most households, organic is not an affordable option for meat proteins.”
Aho chuckled at his recollection of seeing “cage-free broilers” advertised recently. “We’ve never raised broilers in cages,” he said, but since cage-free status commands higher prices, “I think we should push that.”
Other concurrent workshops Monday included an extended Q&A session with the economist panel and “Modern Marketing in the New Media Environment.” Rounding out the morning was Ron Elving, senior Washington editor for National Public Radio, discussing the political scene in Washington and the nation since the presidential election.
Conference attendees spent the afternoon feasting on the wares of nearly 90 exhibitors offering all manner of beef, pork and poultry products in an array of flavors, formats and functionalities. This year, there were plenty of grass-fed, no-antibiotic, free-from and clean-label products; high-end varieties like American Kobe, Berkshire pork and premium lines; and convenient and easy-to-prepare products.
Among the standouts I visited (in alphabetical order):
Cargill offered beef cheek barbacoa street tacos made with its Rumba brand meats, citrus turkey cutlets and cheese-stuffed meatballs made with its Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkey, and jalapeno and pepper jack sliders topped with pepper jam, cream cheese and crispy jalapenos.
Cibo Italia sampled ‘Nduja, a spreadable salami based on an old-world Italian recipe. Made with pork, sea salt and spices, the product can be used as a snack spread or ingredient, and is rising in popularity in the foodservice channel, the company’s Francesco Lupo noted.
Man Cave Craft Eats offered what were probably the most unique samples at the event, including a hot dog containing macaroni and cheese; a breakfast sausage containing eggs, bacon, cheese and hash browns; and a chicken burger sample served skewered with a pipette containing basil pesto that you squeezed into your mouth after consuming the burger. The company also featured a gourmet burger blended with brisket, short rib and bone marrow.
Mulay’s shared its family-recipe sausages made from antibiotic-free pork, featuring chorizo amid a selection of Italian-style links in various intensities (my favorite was the Killer Hot).
Perdue sampled a few items from its Coleman Natural brand, including sausages and bacon. But the main thrust of the company’s booth celebrated the treatment of its chickens, raised on a veggie-only diet without antibiotics and in an environment that gives the birds access to ample sunlight and exercise.
Schmacon, the beef bacon released a few years ago and a Progressive Grocer Editors’ Picks winner, is now co-branded with Certified Angus Beef, which has launched the product in the Middle East, where it was been a success in a crowded market for beef bacon.
Sealed Air shared its latest advances in vacuum-skin meat trays, designed to be leakproof, extend shelf life, be easy to open and be freezer safe, while not adding to the product cost. Variations included a recyclable plastic version of the traditional foam tray that ditches the soaker pad and allows product to be viewed from all sides, and a “greener” option that applies the vacuum skin over a recyclable cardboard sheet.
Smithfield launched the Pure Farms brand of no-antibiotics-ever pork products, including fresh pork cuts, ham cuts and packaged pork cuts such as breakfast sausage and bacon, expected to be available in retail stores and foodservice this month. “It speaks to the trend of transparency and cleaner products,” said Tim Zimmer, Smithfield’s chief marketing officer for packaged meats. Other new products displayed included the Carando brand’s fresh meatballs and snack packs with meat and cheese alongside sweet and savory dips; Curly’s pulled pork and brisket in regional flavor profiles; microwave-in-bag meatballs and slider patties under the Armour value brand; an expanded breakfast meat line under the Smithfield brand; and Skinny Girl egg-white flatbread breakfast sandwiches and luncheon meats.
Tyson Foods gave attendees the first look at its new Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork line, not yet in stores. The loins, chops, roasts and ribs are selected for premium color, marbling and pH. Tyson is also expanding its Open Prairie line of natural beef and pork after a successful launch last year, Tyson’s Ozlem Worpel said.
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