Moving Ham Beyond the Holidays

Easter is just a few days away, and ham will be on the menu at many family gatherings. Year after year, purchases of whole muscle ham spike around this holiday, and while interest returns during Thanksgiving and Christmas, ham suffers from a serious case of seasonality.

Source: Nielsen AOD, 52 Weeks Ending 2/23/19, full year of 2018
In fact, although 79% of households buy deli (pre-packaged ham cold cuts and deli cold cuts) or non-deli (whole, half, quarter ham, smoked picnic ham, ham steak) ham at least once per year, 35% of households that buy non-deli ham only buy whole muscle ham during the holiday peak times of April, November and December.

Perhaps an even more alarming note is that those who do buy whole muscle ham tend to skew toward older generations (50% of purchasers are Boomers). Millennial and Gen Z shoppers are gaining more buying power by the day, and retailers would benefit from getting more ham into their shopping carts. People who buy non-deli ham during non-peak times make frequent trips to the grocery store for ham, indicating strong loyalty to non-deli ham. And they are more likely to purchase stock-up items across the store. Therefore, it’s critical for us to transform ham into something that’s consumed by younger people beyond a few key dates.According to a survey we conducted at the National Pork Board, 37% of ham buyers say it tastes delicious and 52% say it’s easy to prepare. It’s surprising, then, that ham isn’t a more common go-to for quick, convenient meals in busy households. It’s versatile, can be eaten warm or cold, and is easy to keep on-hand.

People who buy ham year-round say that it’s easy to prepare (62%), it tastes delicious (50%) and it’s easy to pair with sides (43%). And in foodservice, ham-based dishes are some of the most-loved ethnic pork sandwiches, according to operators surveyed by Datassential. These include dishes such as the Croque Monsieur (a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich) and the Croque Madame (a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich topped with an egg).

So where’s the disconnect? How can we get ham over the holiday hump?

We need to promote in-store both its simplicity and its versatility beyond Easter and Christmas. For retailers, ham steaks could be seamlessly integrated into summer grilling promotions and as a crowd-pleasing picnic solution. Pre-diced ham could be featured in grab-and-go meal sections.

Retailers and packers would also benefit from flavor experimentation. As we know, spicy flavors are becoming increasingly popular among younger generations. Adding pre-seasoned or pre-sauced ham and ham steaks with varying levels of spiciness could drive at-home trial, especially when promoted as an easy, new grilling cut. Likewise adding a seasoning pack with ham would give consumers both the control they crave with ease of use.

And while ham steaks and whole muscle ham may seem the targets for flavor innovation, the opportunity to unite on-trend flavors to deli meat should not be overlooked.

Lastly, lunchmeat packaging should be reexamined. Much like other cuts of pork, ham is hindered by its health perceptions. New packaging should boldly speak to ham’s high protein content, as well as how it can be easily incorporated into recipes that are already considered “healthy.”

Ham may be thought of as a holiday classic, but it’s so much more than that. With a few minor tweaks to how ham is marketed, it can become a convenient protein that’s enjoyed every day.

Delicious Leftover Ham Ideas!

Have a wonderful holiday weekend! Be sure to check out the videos below for great ham sandwich ideas for next week’s lunches!

Angie Krieger

Angie Krieger

Assistant Vice President, Channel Outreach

National Pork Board Cell: 319-594-4000