Are you a hog farmer or a pork producer? Are you a pork producer or a food producer?

It used to be interesting to ask pork producers those kinds of questions. Today, more of you recognize the importance of responding “I am a food producer.”

Yet, upon further analysis, how many of you live that statement? 

Have you changed the way you raise or market your hogs? Are you communicating with others along the food system – veterinarians, allied industry, packers, processors, retailers, foodservice – to determine what needs to get done?

Dennis DiPietre, food industry consultant, contends that producers have to play a more pro-active role. That means considering how to capture and control your own information to improve what you have to offer. It will mean things like product traceability, communicating and working with others in the pork chain, even if you have to initiate the effort. 

Yes, there have been a handful of attempts to add value to the product, find a niche market, establish a packing plant or other marketing system. Some have worked; many have not. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were all bad ideas. Projects succeed or fail based on several factors, including timing, commitment, financing, identifying the right market, supplying the right product, just to name a few.

One of the big challenges is to think differently and anticipate the future. 

Making that task even more complicated today is the diversity of consumers and how quickly trends change. It’s safer to stay off the road than to risk taking a wrong turn.

Then there’s the problem of getting on the road, but ignoring the signs. Take for example a group of independent pork producers who got a packing/processing plant up and running, but failed to create a product to fill a consumer need. They continued to raise hogs independently – in a variety of buildings, using different genetics and feeding different feeds. They had nothing to offer, except a product “raised locally by family farmers.” In the end that’s not enough. 

Take the lettuce industry. It’s a common example, but a good one nonetheless. The price for a head of lettuce varies, but 79 cents is not uncommon. Several years ago, participants in that industry determined there was money to be made if they wash, shred and bag that lettuce for consumers. Then they could charge $1.79, for an 11-ounce package.

Mix in some additional greens to create specialty blends, or add croutons, bacon bits and dressing to offer complete salads, and they could charge $2.99 for packages ranging from 5 to 10 ounces. 

The lettuce folks created opportunities and added value to a stagnant product.

What have you done to add value to your product?

One reason the lettuce plan worked is because it addressed a need – convenience. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 37 percent of Americans work more than 50 hours a week.

We all know convenience is important to consumers. At last month’s Food Marketing Institute trade show, Phil Lambert, a supermarket analyst, added flavor and credibility to his “Top 3 List.”

Flavor is little surprise. You only have to walk through the grocery store to see the combination of flavors offered to consumers today. There are choices like orange, banana, mango juice; peanut butter and chocolate Oreos; Cheerios with strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

That’s not to mention the onslaught of ethnic foods and spices. The target audience for which is not just the growing Latin and Asian populations, but all U.S. consumers.

Credibility is an interesting addition to Lambert’s list. He pointed to “healthy and organic” foods as examples. The organic sector continues to grow nearly 20 percent annually. You can debate the “health” merits of such products, but you also can debate the merits of spending $1.79 for a bag of lettuce.

Credibility also speaks to who and how the product was raised (and processed.) That’s where you enter the system – the food system.

But your trip has barely begun. Any producer with a long-term future, will need to select and commit to the right road for his/her business.