Checkoff launches new marketing approach to reach millennial and multicultural consumers in today’s mobile world

Imagine what pig farming could be if feed prices were low, U.S. pork export demand was at an all-time high and domestic pork consumption was strong. What was once fiction is now a true story, yet it’s time for a plot twist.

“We need to evolve the way we tell the story of how we do what we do,” said Jarrod Sutton, vice president of domestic marketing for the Pork Checkoff. “That’s why we’re taking a new business-to-business (B2B) approach.”

The goals?

  • Take a deep dive into data-driven market research.
  • Position the National Pork Board team as trusted, knowledgeable consultants to partners throughout the supply chain.
  • Enhance the Checkoff’s domestic and international marketing efforts.

“The time is right to pivot from a business-to-consumer approach to a stronger B2B strategy,” said National Pork Board President Terry O’Neel, Friend, Nebraska.

“Traditional advertising dollars get eaten up quickly today, and we want to get more bang for our Checkoff buck,” O’Neel said. “As a pork producer, I think this new B2B focus is the right way to go.”

Promoting pork in today’s marketplace is much different than in the 1980s, 1990s and into the early 2000s. Think back 30 years ago, when the big three networks (NBC, CBS and ABC) still dominated television, with ads in that era reaching millions of consumers.

“Then came the rise of cable and satellite TV, as well as the growth of the internet,” Sutton said. “As hundreds of communication channels evolved, markets became increasingly segmented.”

The revolution didn’t stop with telecommunications. The food processing and marketing sectors also experienced vast changes, including the rise of branded pork products starting in the 2000s.

“As packers and retailers became more strategic in merchandising pork, farmers began questioning the value of promoting a generic commodity,” Sutton said. “The Checkoff built a lot of equity with the Pork. The Other White Meat® campaign, but we needed to take things to the next level and embrace a new approach.”

Tracking Digital Clues

The new B2B approach reflects the influence of the key 3 M’s – millennials, multicultural and mobile, each of which are transforming America’s eating habits.

“Millennials have surpassed baby boomers in numbers and buying power,” Sutton said. “Their eating habits are different than previous generations, with less focus on center-of-the-plate meat cuts and more on versatility and flavor. We’re studying what this means for pork.”

America’s demographics also are changing with the growing number of Hispanic consumers. Pork is an important part of their cultural heritage, but there’s a catch.

“While many Hispanics love pork, Hispanic immigrants and their descendants tend to eat less pork as they go through the acculturation process and adopt American eating habits,” Sutton said. “We want to know why.”

The Pork Checkoff also is evaluating new ways to help pork remain relevant in the mobile (digital) realm, especially since many consumers now turn first to online sources for food information, recipes and more.

“Whether people are shopping online, posting on social media or searching for information online, they leave a trail of digital clues about what’s important to them,” Sutton said. “We’re using technology to help gather, analyze and share this information with key partners to help promote pork more effectively.”

Digging Deep for Facts

To get valuable insights, the Pork Checkoff is undertaking extensive research (page 22), including working with a firm that specializes in “deep social listening.”

“We want to learn more about what people say on social media about pig farming and pork,” Sutton said. “It’s important to gather sound, credible information.”

The Pork Checkoff also is investing in new pork market research that starts in March. The comprehensive study will target more than 8,000 U.S. consumers to better understand what consumers want when it comes to pork.

“We want to know more about everyone from the value consumer who shops at a mega-retailer to the premium shopper who buys pork from a local artisan meat market,” said Sutton, who added that the Pork Checkoff also gleans valuable insights from consumer focus groups. “We’re looking for ‘dig sites’ where we can go even deeper to gain a better understanding of consumers’ needs.”

The Pork Checkoff is well-positioned to interpret the data, use market analytics to separate food fads from food trends and reveal the pork stories discovered through the research.

“We have great subject-matter experts on our team who can help assess challenges and opportunities for pork,” Sutton said. “We will share this knowledge with packers, retailers and foodservice professionals to help them better meet consumer demands.”

It’s All about Insights and Influence

While the Pork Checkoff always has done research, it hasn’t been to the degree planned for 2018 and beyond.

“The game has definitely changed, and we didn’t have as much in-depth market intelligence as we needed for this new strategy,” O’Neel said. “We’re using technology to help us get this data.”

The Pork Checkoff is investing in a new partnership with Google in 2018 to dig deeper into key online data and better understand the factors that encourage and prevent consumers from buying pork.

“Our motto is ‘data heavy, assumption light.’ We want to provide a source for every claim we make,” Sutton said.

This knowledge can help reposition existing pork products such as ham, develop pilot programs for testing new pork merchandising strategies and spur pork product innovation.

“Research will foster the development of new proprietary content to boost demand for all pork cuts, including the loin,” Sutton said.

O’Neel agreed, saying, “Using data and algorithms to predict demand is almost like artificial intelligence. It’s a powerful way to figure out people’s eating behaviors and buying habits so we can position pork more effectively.”

This in-depth market intelligence is invaluable to food industry influencers. This group is defined by seven packer/processors and 20 retailers that represent more than three-fourths of U.S. grocery channels and 80 key foodservice companies.

“It’s all about market insights and influence,” Sutton said. “We want to become trusted consultants who provide credible information to our supply-chain partners to help them make sound decisions regarding pork.”

Many of these decisions will involve millennials as a key group in which to grow pork demand.

“Millennials are an untapped market,” O’Neel said. “They grew up eating chicken and hamburger, so we have a blank slate with them to promote pork.”

Instilling confidence is essential, Sutton said.

“Our supply-chain partners invest a lot of money in marketing, and they need to get a solid return on their investment,” Sutton said. “We can help by building a strong case for pork.”

Exports Key Part of Pork’s Story

The benefits of using a B2B approach will extend beyond U.S. borders, with the Pork Checkoff’s ongoing efforts to enhance international marketing.

“U.S. pork exports aren’t just gravy; they are essential,” said Craig Morris, vice president of international marketing for the Pork Checkoff. “More than a fourth (26.6 percent) of U.S. pork and variety meats are exported each year, contributing $53.47 in value per every U.S. market pig.”

This new era started in 1995 when America went from being a net pork importer to a net pork exporter. Momentum has built since then, and the nation’s pork producers haven’t looked back.

“Last year, U.S. pork exports shattered records, with a record 5.399 billion pounds, valued at $6.486 billion, exported,” Morris said.

This included more than $1 billion in variety meat exports, with 86 percent headed to Mexico and China (see page 29)

“Pork variety meats exports are shining stars in sales abroad,” said Morris, who added that variety meats account for $9.67 of the $53.47 in value that exports add to each U.S. market pig. “In China, they pay more for many variety meats than for pork loin.”

Keeping U.S. pork exports strong is part of the Pork Checkoff’s new B2B strategy, including a 9 percent increase in Pork Checkoff funding for export market development (see page 28). Enhancing U.S. pork exports goes far beyond just competing on price.

“We want to learn more about what customers around the globe want to know about U.S. pork,” Morris said. “We have a great story to tell and can share more about the We CareSM initiative, including how pig farmers protect the environment and focus on animal well-being and food safety.”

Answering foreign buyers’ questions and meeting their needs is vital in the ever-changing, competitive international marketplace. From 2001 to 2014, world pork production increased 34 percent, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

“With more competition, we need to stay ahead of the curve,” O’Neel said. “And that means learning more about our export customers and sharing the right kind of information with them, just as we are doing with domestic consumers.”

Exciting Times Ahead

Understanding the consumers of tomorrow, both abroad and at home, is key to supporting the Pork Checkoff’s B2B strategy and building on the growth that has defined the pork industry in recent months.

“We’re excited to see where this can lead us,” O’Neel said. “With a new approach, strong pork demand and great pork products, we’re on the right track to drive profitable growth for producers, as well as our industry partners.”