Without question, your business is complex. Sadly, that’s a notion few people outside of the industry understand.

Conversely, there are still few pork producers who embrace the fact that they produce food. I understand that as daily tasks and challenges pile up on the production side of your business, the product side slips from your thoughts.

So let’s take a look at some of the trends pegged for 2005 from the food side of the pork business.

Gourmet, high-end, specialty products. There is still a need for basic, low-cost food products; that’s why Wal-Mart is the No. 1 grocer. There’s also the continuing need for easy-to-prepare or pre-made products for busy consumers. But large sectors of the population — such as baby boomers — want more from their food. They want high flavor, high quality and unique foods. More frequently, they also want access to ethnic and gourmet foods.

All of those products are grabbing more space on grocers’ shelves and meat cases. Some grocers are using this as a way to set themselves apart from the pack.

Support systems like the Food Network and Internet sites like Epicurious.com are making more people comfortable with cooking and trying new things. People, including kids, are cooking today because it’s becoming increasingly easy for them to succeed.

Pork is popular. Strongly featured in Bon Appetit magazine’s January issue outlining “What’s Hot” was Kurobuta pork. That’s a niche product involving Berkshire — “heirloom” — pork. But throughout the issue pork was featured in a variety of ways. It also was reinforced by this year’s “hot cuisine” choice, Pan-Asian, which is a big user of pork.

It’s worth noting that heirloom is a hot word, regardless if you’re talking about apples, tomatoes or pork. Heirloom products are pitched as more traditional, having more flavor than “mass-produced, commodity products.”

Just last month, Smithfield Foods introduced a new product line called “Preferred Stock,” emphasizing that it’s going “back to the basics.” The more highly marbled pork line will allow Smithfield to offer a niche product to consumers who “want a tastier, more flavorful fresh pork product.” 

Food with a conscience. Increasingly some grocery and restaurants entities are making an issue out of how food is raised and prepared. In some cases, this is a marketing angle, in others it’s an agenda. The point is, the companies are challenging consumers’ thinking and raising questions in consumers’ minds about their food selections.   

A consumer might go into Chipotle for a burrito and come out questioning how the hogs that produce other pork are raised. That’s because information printed on the soft-drink cup highlights how Chipotle’s supplier, Niman Ranch, raises its hogs. Issues like “factory” or corporate farming, animal welfare and antibiotics will increasingly be used to set products, grocers and restaurants apart.

Questioning how animals are raised may not produce direct, measurable results. Rather, it’s a slow, seepage that occurs over time.

Growing organics. Surveys show that nearly 30 percent of Americans are eating more organic products today than they were a year ago. Why? Nearly 60 percent say it’s because “they’re better for the environment”; 57 percent say it’s because “they’re produced by small and local farmers.” There’s also the belief that organic products are “better for you, taste better and are of better quality.”

Chefs are increasingly interested in organic products, which have scored 15 percent to 20 percent annual sales growth for several years now. The momentum is expected to continue, even without proof of those perceptions.

Of course, not all consumers will follow these trends. But many of them are interconnected and starting to weave a web that could have increasing impact.

You need to be aware of the food and consumer side of the business, because it’s important not to forget what you ultimately produce.