How many prepared meals does your family eat in one week? When do you plan your meals? Over half of today’s consumers purchase prepared meals from a grocery store more than once a week, and meals are often planned as they shop a few short hours before dinner. With these trends, grocery retailers have shifted from selling ingredients for shoppers to assemble in recipes at home. Now they also offer more prepared foods and substantial in-house restaurants to better target consumers seeking convenience, as well as to build distinction in the marketplace.

Appetites + Innovations is a national leadership forum and collaborative held at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, California. At the August event, senior culinary and business leaders in all sectors of foodservice and prepared foods at retail addressed the changing landscape of retail foodservice.

The Pork Checkoff was one of a very limited number of sponsors selected to take part in the collaborative leadership event. The sponsorship offered unique opportunities to impact, influence and engage representatives from the retail foodservice industry. National Pork Board President Steve Rommereim and his wife Charlotte, who is a registered dietitian, and chef David Bottagaro, who is the manager of national channel marketing for the Pork Checkoff, participated in dialogue and hosted pork tastings.

Mark Linder, U.S. agriculture liaison for the Culinary Institute of America, said, ”As we are further removed from the land, we lose how important agriculture is in our lives.” He appreciated the “transparency and honesty” of the presentations and the opportunity to meet real-life farmers.

In a presentation about their Alcester, South Dakota, farm, the Rommereims provided a firsthand look into their lives as a pig farming family.

Elaine Magee, wellness services corporate dietitian for the Albertsons Companies, said, “As someone who grew up in the bay area of California, I didn’t know how pig farms can be. I was moved to tears hearing about the different generations in the Rommereim family farm.”

In his presentation and through pork showcased at the event, Bottagaro emphasized the versatility and convenience of pork to the retail foodservice operation.

“I loved seeing what Dave could do with pork. It helped me think outside of the pork chop box, so to speak,” Magee said.

Who is producing the food and how it is produced are both critical questions to answer for retail foodservice leaders. Transparency and values are significant purchasing considerations for consumers, in addition to price.  Conversations about these issues occurred throughout the event among pig farmers, chefs, dietitians, and retail leaders.

“Data doesn’t drive people to use pork in their foodservice operation, but pig farmer stories can provide the emotional insight for these decision-makers,” Bottagaro said.

Linder added, “Sharing ideas and stories communicates how farmers are using modern technology.”

Linder emphasized the importance of the sponsorship from the Pork Checkoff and relationship with the Culinary Institute of America, saying, “You get to present your product and tell your story. An added benefit is you know what these top culinary leaders are talking about.”

Rommereim agreed, adding, “Relationships are key. People do business with people. If we want to increase pork consumption, we need to be present to develop meaningful relationships.”