Believe it or not, consumers hold U.S. pork producers in high regard, more than producers actually would have guessed. But there’s room for improvement.

A survey conducted by Eidson & Partners in partnership with Decisive Research Service, shows that 84 percent of consumers “feel positive” or have “no opinion” about pork production. When pork producers were surveyed, they predicted that only 35 percent of consumers would feel positive about pork production.

“This study shows that pork producers are regarded much more positively than producers expected,” says Tim Bierman, past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “The survey confirms that producers are very concerned about how they are viewed by U.S. consumers.”

The National Pork Board commissioned the independent survey to gauge consumers’ perceptions of pork production, how producers think consumers view the industry, and how producers perceive themselves. The survey, conducted in 2002, occurred in three phases:

1) Pork producer focus groups.

2) Pork producer telephone interviews.

3) Consumer telephone interviews from key and non-key pork producing states.

“As producers, we go above and beyond to protect the environment,” says Bierman. “Producers are utilizing technologies such as concrete manure storage facilities, incorporating manure nutrients for crop fertilizer and conducting third-party audits on their operations to ensure they are doing their part.” 

The findings speak for themselves. Let’s look at some of the key results from the producer perspective:

  • Regardless of operation size, pork producers tend to agree that they consistently produce high-quality meat; house pigs in a healthy, biologically safe environment; and have a clean operation.
  • According to the survey, the larger the operation, the more positive the producers’ response in terms of their operation’s economic viability. They believe their operation: is an efficient way to raise pork; is well organized; has more highly efficient looking buildings; and keeps the price of pork as low as possible.
  • Although pork producers in general have a positive self-image, the majority responded “neutral” or “negative” in their assessment of the industry as a whole. Producers in the small category appeared to be the least satisfied, most mid-sized producers were “dissatisfied” or “neutral,” and producers with large operations were “neutral” or “satisfied” with the current state of the industry.

    Overall, 68 percent of producers running small operations were either “somewhat dissatisfied” or “not at all satisfied” with the industry, while 48 percent of mid-sized producers and only 11 percent of large producers fell into those categories.

  • Producers in general were satisfied with the success of the “Pork. The Other White Meat” slogan. They also indicated satisfaction in seeing more pork on restaurant menus today and a leaner product that’s more in tune with consumer tastes.
  • Producers voiced dissatisfaction about the following: the high retail price of pork; consumers seem to be eating less meat; pork packers aren’t marketing products as aggressively as poultry packers; and a perceived packer monopoly over live-hog pricing.
  • Many pork producers feel isolated within their communities because of environmental issues.
  • Pork producers see the public as favoring beef operations because cattle are not raised inside buildings.
  • Producers, regardless of operation size, care about the animals within their operation. They believe consumers are misinformed about the way producers care for and raise animals today.

On the other side, consumers’ said they:

  • Tend to think of small and mid-sized pork operations in a more positive light than large operations.
  • Focus more on the quality of the operation rather than the economic side, which is contrary to the producers’ focus.
  • See pork operations as being a cut above poultry operations in regard to treating animals humanely and providing healthy living conditions.
  • Have concerns regarding the way they think producers treat their animals. Consumers say they have a lot of animal-care related questions they would like to ask producers. However, these questions seem to focus more on how the treatment of pigs can effect consumer well-being rather than the pig’s well-being.
  • Have concerns regarding pork consumption in terms of meat quality and safety.
  • Rate producers’ strengths as hard working, committed to farming, and taking a high-tech approach to pork production.

Still, the image that producers have of themselves is more positive than the image that consumers have of producers. This is particularly true with regard to environmental and animal-care issues. Here’s what the two groups said:

Keep in mind, however, that 89 percent of the consumers participating in the survey had not seen, heard or read any recent information – pro or con – about pork producers or pork production.

This survey sends a message that consumers do see pork producers in a positive light, but indeed there’s still room for improvement. 

Classifying Operation Size

The survey characterized pork production operations in the following manner:

  • A small operation is one that markets 1,000 to 4,000 hogs annually;
  • Mid-sized, markets 4,000 to 60,000 hogs annually;
  • Large, markets 60,000 or more hogs annually.