ASK Chris Novak, chief executive officer at the National Pork Board, for the board's one overarching driver, and he'll say it's "prices, prices, prices."
Higher prices will allow for producer profitability, he said in an interview with Feedstuffs last month.
"We are moving the needle," Novak said, noting that per capita expenditures for pork have increased 5% since the launch of the new "Pork — Be Inspired" promotion two years ago (Feedstuffs, March 14, 2011). He explained that the goal of the promotion is to increase per capita consumption and expenditures by increasing the price/value of pork.
However, corn costs have been so high and returns have been so bad for so long that the needle's work is not done, he said, especially as more pork is coming onto the market because of larger-than-expected production and slower-than-expected exports, the latter due to decisions by certain international trading partners to close their borders to U.S. pork and also to weak economies.
Novak said this is why the board, at its meeting in March, approved $3 million of supplemental funding for a special summer retail campaign directed at "inspiring" consumers to make daily decisions to buy pork for dinner (Feedstuffs, March 11).
The campaign is designed to move pork, increasing demand for and consumption and value of pork to get higher prices and profitability for producers. "The campaign is the right thing to do at the right time," he said.
However, Novak said doing the right thing has been made very difficult by the campaign being waged against the Pork Board by animal activists, specifically The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), "to disrupt and harass" the pork industry.
These include a lawsuit challenging the board's acquisition of the "Pork — The Other White Meat" marketing message (Feedstuffs, Oct. 1, 2012), a complaint filed at the Federal Trade Commission over the industry's "PQA-Plus" and "We Care" programs and nine Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Novak said the legal entanglements are so many that the board is limited in what it can say.
He said it's also frustrating that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has waived any responsibility for HSUS to reimburse the board for its expenses to respond to FOIA requests because of HSUS's nonprofit status. Accordingly, the board is spending money and time to provide HSUS with information that the group then uses for legal maneuvers against the board, he said.
"It's a diversion of producers' resources," he said, "but we are continuing to do the best thing — the right thing — for the industry. We are staying focused" on pork promotion, research and producer programs.
Another HSUS tactic is its strategy to pressure foodservice and retail companies into announcing expectations for how pork suppliers are to house and treat their animals, although there is a silver "squeal" to this one.
In response, Novak said the Pork Board has changed its agenda in meetings with food manufacturers and restaurant and retail companies from one designed for pork promotion to one structured to explain how pigs are treated and how pork is produced.
Most customers have only a narrow understanding of production practices, and they do express an appreciation for the information that the board brings to them, he said. They need and want information to defend their brands and speak to their customers, who are consumers, he said.
"So, our conversation is different today," he said.
However, Novak said this conversation has actually prompted customers, especially restaurant companies, to invite the board's foodservice staff into their kitchens to work with their chefs for "ideation" purposes to create pork dishes for their menus. A good example is the extent to which Noodles & Co. has added pork items to its menu, he said.
"We've shifted our focus to customer relations," and it has paid off, Novak said.
Novak said the Pork Board will launch new "tools" at this week's World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, including an improved PQA-Plus program designed to strengthen producers' customer interactions.
PQA-Plus is the industry's pork quality assurance initiative plus its animal welfare program, and Novak said a number of new animal handling and production practices have been added and the third-party assessment process has been strengthened.
He also said professional swine manager training and certification has been developed for barn managers, and a farm safety program has been developed for farm workers and their families.
Novak said the tools will be announced at a news conference.