Pork Remains the Dependable Protein in Meat Case

A return to cooking and greater variety in formats and flavors lift pork category, even as supplies and prices wobble


Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer



It’s not quite a second-banana thing, but pork hasn’t been in the protein spotlight as much as animal-based counterparts like beef and chicken and, more recently, much-talked-about plant-based alternatives.


If pork is a somewhat quieter protein, it’s also a meat case stalwart: Per capita pork consumption has remained fairly steady over the years, at 52.0 pounds in 2020, 51.2 pounds in 2021 and a projected 51.1 pounds this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which projects that pork production will hit 27.3 billion pounds this year.


In the more recent marketplace, seasonal supply-and-demand trends that have traditionally shaped pork performance were upended as the pandemic affected production and processing throughout much of 2020, and as supply chain issues caused shortages in things like feed and medications in 2021. The latest wrinkle, of course, is inflation, with the Consumer Price Index for pork rising 13.7% from April 2021 to April 2022.


    Even with such pressures, pork remains a dependable kind of meat. “Pork is on the same trajectory as total meat and many categories across the store — dollar gains that are boosted by inflation and year-on-year volume pressure,” notes Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of San Antonio-based 210 Analytics. “However, when compared with 2019, the same amount of pork is selling as before the pandemic changed all shopping and consumption patterns.”


In fact, grocers can rely on pork to provide shoppers with proteins that meet their dietary, taste and budget needs and to lift their own meat department sales. As Roerink points out, pork comprises 13% of fresh meat dollars and 17% of fresh meat pounds, meaning that it tends to sell at a lower price per pound. “Pork’s favorable price point allows retailers to drive trips to the store,” she says, adding that IRI data shows that pork has been featured more often during the past year compared with other proteins like beef, chicken and turkey.


Those promotions can be effective for retailers, as inflation-minded consumers appreciate being pointed in the direction of value. “While three-quarters [of consumers] are looking for promotions, 43% say they are seeing less of them, and they are absolutely right,” explains Roerink. “Many categories across the store are running fewer promotions, and if they are promoting, discounts tend to be less deep. This has everything to do with the supply chain issues, and that’s where retailers’ ability to promote pork is helping consumers in today’s tough environment.”


Ozlem Worpel, director of fresh meats marketing at Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, agrees that meat departments can successfully merchandise pork in this operating environment. “We know that consumers are looking to economize without sacrifice,” observes Worpel. “As we saw in the 2022 [FMI] ‘Power of Meat’ study, the first step for many is to cut back on restaurant spending. People are looking to bring the restaurant experience home for everyday mealtime and for at-home entertaining. Retailers have a unique opportunity to provide inspiration for their shoppers and emphasize both quality and value, engaging consumers in new and creative ways.”


The fact that consumers are savvier about buying and using pork is a boon to the category at a time when this protein is appealing for value reasons. “One of the silver linings of the last couple years was that consumers became more comfortable in the kitchen and expanded their repertoires of meals prepared at home,” adds Worpel. “Even now, as consumers are getting creative when balancing the equation for both quality and price, demand for high-quality protein at retail is still strong.”


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