Jarrod Sutton has worked on behalf of pork producers for 13 years. He presently serves as assistant vice president for channel marketing at the National Pork Board. Listen to the audio interview with Jarrod Sutton at PorkNetwork.com

PorkNetwork: What is channel marketing?
Sutton: Essentially, there are three outlets for our products: We either sell them through the retail grocery channel, through the foodservice channel, or through the international market channel, hence the name channel marketing. My focus has been domestic channel marketing. Nearly all the pork sold domestically either goes through restaurant and grocery chains (about 70 percent in terms of volume) or foodservice (about 30 percent). We are constantly working to strengthen our relationships with key retail customers like Walmart, Costco, Kroger and key food-service companies like McDonalds, Olive Garden, etc. to get as much bang for our buck as possible.

PorkNetwork: How will these efforts benefit producers?
Sutton: As part of our relationships with these companies, we’re not trying to sell them a specific brand or a specific product. For the most part, we want to work with these companies to show them who we are and what we’re able to do. We’re the pork experts, which includes keeping up with the trends and what’s popular, and sharing the data that’s available to us to better understand marketplace opportunities to feature what, when and how. We have an opportunity to strengthen our partnership role with these companies. We are trying to enhance their overall meatcase category in general, from a retail perspective. When we talk with executives from retail grocery chains and foodservice organizations, we tell them, ‘It’s our job to make you successful by helping you sell more pork at a higher price, because if you win, we win, and the farmers I represent win.’ That’s how we get new items on menus, new features and promotional activities with major retailers.

PorkNetwork: What feedback have you received from retailers when you talk to them about pork production?

The real opportunity for us is this: We have to educate the key stakeholders in our industry. Surprisingly, the people at these companies don’t have a good understanding of how pigs become pork. Especially related to sow housing, you see people who haven’t taken the adequate time to learn what gestation stalls are, why they’re utilized, and what factors farmers consider to determine ultimately what housing system they’re going to use. We’ve seen firsthand that providing education and answering questions has made a difference. It continues to make a difference because we don’t have anything to hide. Admittedly, we’re playing catch-up, but we’re sharing information proactively and aggressively with foodservice and retail companies. We’ve been on the road for 12 months and it’s been very successful. We’re connecting with the sustainability officers, communications teams and public relations people and we’re helping them figure out how to navigate through this new world of questions surrounding food procurement. All of our work is sound, supported by research and we’ve received a tremendous number of compliments for the work we’ve doing. Other food associations, such as the National Restaurant Association and the Food Marketing Institute, are utilizing the information we’re sharing to extend it even further through their own memberships.