Lack of communication has the power to bring a relationship to its knees– whether it involves businesses, governments or a marriage.

In the pork industry there has been a lot of talk about the need for segments within the production, processing, distribution and marketing chain to work together. But communication remains the weakest link in that effort.

Identifying those links and where communication gaps lie was the motivation behind a research project between Pork magazine and the Philip Morris Management Corporation’s Shared Solutions agricultural initiative. The study involved surveying 3,200 members of the pork value chain, including producers, packers/processors, distributors/wholesalers, foodservice operators and retailers.

You will see the survey results in more detail in the months ahead. For now, here are a few highlights:

- Pork chain participants acknowledge that overall communications have been poor, and they recognize a need to improve their knowledge about the other business segments within the chain.

- Segments do a decent job of communicating with their closest participants within the chain. For example, retailers communicate well with distributors and packers, but have virtually no interaction with producers.

- In reality, producers were the most left-out segment in terms of overall chain communication.

- A majority of respondents see the need to improve communication throughout the chain.

- Participants would most like to improve information flow on pork quality and food safety.

- There is a shared vision on the importance of understanding consumer needs, and an acknowledgement that it can unlock opportunities.

While most pork chain participants will admit communication challenges exist, this study is the first to quantify the gaps. With this information, the industry can make progress toward bridging those gaps and step closer to ensuring that pork reaches its full market potential.

There is a lot of potential û and money û being left on the table today, and with margins narrowing across all pork chain segments it’s worth searching for answers.

The thing is, communication is more than simply talking.

For example, packers contend, “ we communicate with producers everyday.” Meanwhile, producers continue to lament “ I wish my packer would tell me what he wants.” Communication runs deeper than kill sheets or information on carcass pH. It’s means sharing ideas, trends, plans and looking years down the road. It also means sharing information up and down the pork chain beginning with the consumer and flowing back through to the producer. To some, that idea is blasphemy. Proprietary information, after all, is the foundation on which business is built. At least that’s been true in the past. But with each passing day, old formulas are proving less useful. Collecting, analyzing and, in more cases, sharing information is the modern business model. Business by its nature is competitive regardless of the industry, and there’s always the concern that you’ll show too much of your hand. But businesses everywhere are finding ways to build alliances and share information.

Successful communication requires dialogue with others. In the pork value chain’s case, that means bringing the segments together to exchange ideas, concerns, challenges as well as to identify opportunities. Participants within the pork value chain have tended to maintain a myopic view. But that will limit opportunities.

After all, if you have partners working to provide you with the exact goods that you need, you have to spend less time fabricating the goods yourself. That’s value.

Producers to packers to retailers and all links in between need to change the way they do business, and therein lies the rub û no one likes change. What’s more, we’re talking about tremendously traditional industries.

But, if the pork industry is sincere about expanding opportunities, then strengthening the communication links is the place to start.