The Pork Industry Needs Its Wagyu Moment

847

A large portion of pork products at the grocery store are bland, resulting in disappointed customers and flat lined sales. We need to produce and market better tasting pork. With improvements to flavor, a 15% across the board pork sales increase is very possible.  We investigate how we got to this point as an industry, what the experts are saying, and strategies to produce a better tasting product.

“As a consumer, what do we look for when we shop for beef? We look for well marbled, dark meat, that is going to cook to be delicious and tender. Why don’t we do the same when we shop for pork?”

Paul Wollman, from Poplar Point Hogs in Canada opens up to our team about his thoughts as a passionate Pork Producer.

How we got here:

Over the past century, the pork industry has evolved its product to be safer, more efficient, and more profitable. Swine have been bred to be: less susceptible to parasites, (like trichinosis), to grow faster, and to be leaner. We produced pork we believed the consumer wanted, which over the past quarter century we thought meant less fatty. The tradeoff is that pork products now have less flavor!

A study released in 2006 by the USDA confirmed that the most common cuts of fresh pork were on average about 16% lower in total fat then they were in 1990. The standard pork tenderloin is now as lean as a skinless chicken breast.[i]

Spencer Long from Genesus Inc highlighted this trend. Genesus Genetics has been working diligently for years on a Better Tasting Pork Product with their Jersey Red Duroc.

“We as an industry have allowed inferior pork to become the standard. This is pork that is bland, dry, white, has no marbling, tastes awful, and leaves one wondering why they bought it in the first place. There’s a reason why bacon costs so much when compared to other cuts of pork – it has marbling, it has taste, and it’s universally loved by so many because of this. Overall, meat consumption has actually gone up but pork consumption has not moved, why don’t people want to eat more pork? We need to be producing pork that consumers actually want to eat.”

Adam Walters, Finishing Manager at Tosh Pork Farms shares his sentiment for better tasting Pork products,

“The swine industry is consumer driven. Fifteen years ago, everyone wanted a leaner protein. We accomplished that at the cost of some flavor. Less fat = less flavor. As the consumer needs change, we’ll change our product to meet their needs. Change is good. I’m all about improving flavor whether it’s through genetics or nutrition.”

Better tasting pork will cause consumers to choose pork more often at the grocery store; like they do for bacon. The best and easiest way for Swine Producers to capture more market share is to produce a better tasting product; which would benefit everyone in the industry (As well as the satisfied consumer!).

Possible Strategies for a Better Tasting Pork Product:

Two ways the industry could improve taste are through better genetics and better nutrition. We will briefly discuss these methods and comment on ways to market the improvement to consumers.

Better Genetics

Many consumers can name what they consider higher end types of beef, for example Wagyu or Angus. There is a reason why consumers consider Wagyu beef one of the most coveted meats. It has beautiful marbling which makes for a taste many consider superior to any “lean” beef. However, Wagyu beef can cost up to $200 a pound! You see some restaurants or butchers advertising Angus beef. Angus beef is a name, almost like a brand, that consumers recognize and will seek out.

Is there a comparable hog a consumer can recognize like Wagyu or Angus?  Paul Woolman believes it is the Jersey Red Duroc. The American developed breed emerged in the 1850s, from crosses of the Jersey Red and New York’s older Duroc.

Paul said,

“There are few swine breeds out there that provide well marbled, dark meat. I truly believe if we market and promote that kind of product, the market will respond.  Genesus Genetics is on the right track with the Jersey Red Duroc. I have tasted the difference many times.”

For 25 years Genesus has worked at producing better-tasting pork focused on developing the Jersey Red Duroc.  Spencer Long detailed this work,

“We, at Genesus, produce registered purebred Jersey Red Durocs that have all the traits people desire. The same desire they have for beef – marbling, red color, and taste. We have won numerous taste tests to back it up. Producing this pork at a competitive cost of production is also fundamental, this isn’t a niche product that only 1% of consumers should enjoy. Jersey Red Duroc is pork that has marbling, red color, and taste throughout all the cuts of pork. Not just in bellies like so many other genetic companies produce.”

There will always be a demand for leaner protein, but the pendulum has swung too far. There is a niche in the market waiting to be filled by relatively inexpensive (compared to types of beef like Wagyu), better tasting pork. If we give the consumer options, they will choose what is best for them. Better tasting breeds like Jersey Red Duroc will be the pork to fill this niche. Marketing the meat as an “affordable premium” will lead to name recognition, word-of-mouth recommendations, and increased sales.

Better Nutrition

If we want to improve the flavor from breeds we currently have, many studies point to better nutrition. While there will be an additional cost to changing diets, there should be a premium for the resulting meat at the market because it will taste better.

A Spanish study found that feeding pigs olive pulp, which contains a monounsaturated fatty acid, resulted in more unsaturated fat in the meat as well as a better color and smell.[i] There are many other studies that show similar results. If producers were able to change the nutritional content of the food fed to their animals, at a reasonable price, it is clear that the result will be better tasting pork.

Consumers will pay more at the grocery store for “Grass Fed” beef or “Free Range” eggs.  A quick internet search will see some pork producers marketing, “Outdoor Bred Pork”, “Outdoor Reared Pork” and “Free Range Pork.”[ii] While these labels will entice some consumers for ethical concerns, ensuring that their feed includes elements that also improve flavor will also result in better tasting meat. Again, like with quality breeds of pig, this specially produced pork can be labeled as affordable premium at the grocery store.

The key to increasing sales after improving flavor will be marketing the changes to consumers.

Swineweb.com’s founder Jim Eadie gave some suggestions on how to build a Better Tasting Pork Product or brand into a household name:

  • Build the Brand. Create a brand or slogan (To compete with Waygu or Angus Beef) and market that as a destination product.
  • Private Labels like “Jersey Red,” “Jersey Red Duroc,” or other breeds with more flavor should become a household name. Also focus on individual farms to sell their own branded products
  • Expand taste tests, get “Jersey Red Duroc” into Flagship Restaurants. Celebrity Chefs should use the name.
  • Focus on the Butcher first with display cases, branding, and to stand out. Expand then to Direct to consumer, National Grocers.
  • Create a Pork Only restaurant (high end or fast food), possibly start in a tourist area like New York City and let expansion drive from there.

Consumers are the driving force in our product. We must set clear, longer-term goals to create a better tasting product and build that around an improved marketing strategy. If we work together the sky is the limit for our own “Waygu moment”

Jeff Day is the Editorial Strategist at Swineweb.com. He can be reached at Jeff@swineweb.com.

[1]  Nutrition Facts – US Pork. Available at: https://usa-pork.org/for-consumers/nutrition-facts/. Accessed 22 DEC 22.

[1]  Use of Mediterranean By-Products to Produce Entire Male Large White Pig: Meat and Fat Quality https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34827860/

[1] Redhill Farm. Available at: https://www.redhillfarm.com/about-us/about/what-is-free-range. Accessed 24 DEC 22.

Jersey Red Facts:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjFqB3zAWpg

https://www.swineweb.com/genesus-jersey-red-duroc-the-ultimate-pork-experience/