The National Pork Board is launching a new communications-promotion plan
Bill Even, CEO, National Pork Board
Don Wick: 00:01 From the Pork Checkoff in Des Moines Iowa, it’s Pork Pod. Pork Pod, a look at the hot topics in today’s pork industry. The Pork Checkoff is working for you through various forms of research, promotion, and consumer information projects. I’m Don Wick speaking on behalf of the Pork Checkoff, and today our guest is Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board. And Bill, as we look back to World Pork Expo in June, the National Pork Board announced a new communications strategy, a new focus that was coming our way. Bring us up to date. Where do we stand today? And tell us a little bit about this effort first of all.
Bill Even: 00:34 Yeah absolutely. So when you when you think about where when the Pork Checkoff started back in 1985 86 right. Your phone was bolted to the wall of your kitchen, right? Fast forward to 2017. That phone is actually in your pocket and you’ve got the entire world at your fingertips, and, you know, access to the Internet. And the other thing you go back to the 1980s, there was a lot of generic commodity fresh pork on the market, really undifferentiated in the meat case. Today there’s a huge rise of brand, a rapidly consolidating supply chain, you know, with the packing, the retail and food service industry. And so it really necessitated the Board to stop and rethink its strategy. So the Pork Checkoff is really taking a look at what do people want to know about pork as a food, right? About recipes and health and nutrition and taste. And then what are also people interested about and that is how is this pork is raised, right?
Bill Even: 01:29 Where did it come from? Animal welfare, antibiotics, and so forth. So our new business to business strategy is really designed to bring those two things together and get that information out to those folks in that supply chain so that they can then amplify it. You know we’ve got a limited amount of checkoff dollars, producers money, let’s figure out how we leverage that by working more closely with the brands.
Don Wick: 01:53 It’s interesting. That’s a huge shift in the way you’re doing business and sometimes it’s hard to make substantial significant changes like that. How easy was it to get this moved on?
Bill Even: 02:05 So we spent over a year behind the scenes working on this in a very open, transparent process. Working with the supply chain, working with producers, working with our board, working with committees. And all that led to a vote by the board of directors in June to make this strategy switch. We’re really talking about executing it in 2018. So coming up here right after the first of the year. But you know it’s not that we’re going to disappear from that advertising space. But the reality is there’s a different and probably better more effective way of getting our message out there and having other people amplify it. And that kind of leads me to maybe another point. The Pork Checkoff is also completely overhauling its digital strategy, its online presence. We’re going to be launching a brand new mobile capable web site here before Christmas.
Bill Even: 02:52 Still going to be the good old pork.org, but you know we’re running about 23 different Web sites right now, based for different audiences, different issues and so forth. And we found that we were cannibalizing our own our own search effectiveness. So we started with a blank sheet of paper. Got a partnership with Google and we stopped and said, “What do people want to know about pork?”. And we’re building this with the end user in mind, because at the end of the day, when somebody Googles something, they need to be able to find it in 10 seconds or less. And good accurate pork information should be at the top of that search list.
Don Wick: 03:30 Gotta be interesting to have that relationship with Google.
Bill Even: 03:36 It is, it is fascinating, to say the least! The power of digital information, you hear the term big data thrown out all the time. That is definitely big data and understanding what that means to the pork industry is critically important because, you know, if we’re not out there telling our story accurately, somebody else is going to tell it perhaps inaccurately.
Don Wick: 04:00 Let’s talk, if we can, about a different subject, and that is some consumer research. Pork Checkoff has always been focused on getting the attitudes of those consumers. Give me an idea. What have we learned at this point?
Bill Even: 04:10 Yeah, so you know, the Pork Checkoff does represent, you know, 60,000 U.S. pork producers and we do research, promotion, and education. So we know what people love about pork, probably don’t need a lot of research. Just look at the sales data. People love their bacon! They love their ham! They love their sausage, you know. They love those meats that are rich in color and they’ve got some marbling in it and just taste fantastic. You know, pork’s the food you put on other food to make it taste good. Right? So you know we’ve got that in spades. When you stop and think about what’s really dragging on the cutout values, right, and it’s really some of that fresh pork, you know, maybe a bit of the loin, in particular. And so we went out and asked consumers and said “Why is that?”.
Bill Even: 04:45 And we learned some surprising things. Number one, the average American consumer is only buying fresh pork about seven times a year. About once every other month. That’s a shockingly low number, right? So well, why? Well, the consumers told us number one, pork gets overcooked, right? You do not need to burn your pork like grandma told you to do it. The USDA said that you only need to cook pork to one hundred forty five degrees with three minutes rest. And so if we can work on that, you don’t burn it, doesn’t taste like a hockey puck, going to be great. Number two, confusion over the cut names. And so the pork industry is going to adopt similar the naming conventions you used to, familiar with beef. So whether it’s a porterhouse chop or a rib eye chop, when you’re on a menu or looking in the meat case, you know what to look for. You can target on something that you like. The third piece is probably the most interesting and that’s the understanding of, you know, the pork went from being, you know, a lard type hog right after World War II, to the really lean, you know, pork the other white meat in the 80s and 90s and up into the early 2000s. Those are the right strategies at the time. But consumers are clearly telling us that the pendulum swung a little too far and, you know, we should be pork the other pink meat perhaps and a bit of color and a bit of marbling in that fresh pork is actually going to give you a better eating experience. And that’s going to help us with our repeat purchases.
Don Wick: 06:17 I’m curious when you talk about some of the consumer attitudes and those kind of things, it’s pretty shocking that some of those things you are talking about.
Bill Even: 06:28 Yeah. And there’s an old rule of thumb in any business is, ignore the consumer or the customer at your own peril. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in international markets or in domestic markets, folks are more interested in quality and they’re interested in the story. And it’s the obligation of the Pork Checkoff to figure out how do we get the industry moving in that direction, and how do we ensure that we’ve got the right platforms to tell that story, and then we also have the products out there that consumers are really interested in eating.
Don Wick: 06:57 Switch gears to the Secure Pork Supply. Obviously you want to make sure that we’re protecting this industry really through the whole chain.
Bill Even: 07:04 Absolutely. So when you when you look at, I spent 17 years as a volunteer firefighter in South Dakota. Right. And these rules of thumb apply whether you’re fighting fires or whether you’re working on a disease in the industry. So number one is prevention right. What does the industry need to do to prevent “the fire”. Right and that’s your biosecurity plan on your farm. Number two is early detection. Right. So with a fire, what is your smoke detector. But in the pork industry, is it “Are you walk the barns?”. Do you have a good veterinarian relationship there that’s keeping an eye on those animals. Number three, though, when something does go wrong, you need a rapid response. So that’s the fire department, or in this case, our sister organization the National Pork Producers Council working very diligently on Capitol Hill around a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank, so we’ve got the tools necessary to “put out the fire”. Number four is recovery right. How do you do the cleanup recovery and get back into business.
Bill Even: 08:07 And that’s where the Pork Checkoff is working. So the Secure Pork Supply plan is working hand-in-hand with the USDA, state veterinarians, and others to understand, can we build a modern day real time dashboard, right, a digital dashboard that state vets and others can use. Because if there’s a disease outbreak, you know, let’s say in Jamestown North Dakota, the state vets are going to want to know what’s the size and scale of that quarantine area and then who’s outside of that quarantine area where we can still move pigs. There’s a million head of pigs a day moving on the road. And so that business continuity component is going to be really important. It’s going to be a horribly, catastrophically painful and damaging economically. But the quicker we can get the system back up and running, the better off the producers are going to be.
Don Wick: 08:52 And so that means communications now and really real time as things happen.
Bill Even: 08:55 Yeah and it’s you know it’s kind of the world we’re living in right. You know rather than shuffling papers and mailing things around and somebody has got records in an electronic format on the Excel file and others got it in a Word document. Others got it in a ledger book. Some maybe don’t have track of it at all. If something goes wrong, the state vets got to figure all this stuff out. Right. And they’re you know understaffed and underfunded right in most states. And what can we do to make sure that the state vets and the USDA have got the best information available in a consistent format.
Don Wick: 09:27 Bill Even from the National Pork Board. Thanks to you for listening to this edition of Pork Pod. For more information on this topic, or the Pork Checkoff itself, visit pork.org.