Note: More information about the Pork Value Chain survey is available on this Web site.

Every pork-chain segment has an opinion about what actions are needed to maximize pork's marketability, but surprisingly the opinions are more similar than they are different. At least that's the perspective that surfaced from the Pork-Value Chain Communication Gap Survey.

The point in asking survey participants about factors influencing pork's
marketability is to continue to identify communication gaps and opportunities that exist within the pork chain.

All chain segments clearly recognize the consumers' importance to their businesses, five of the six segments rank "understanding consumer needs" No. 1 in terms of how to maximize pork's marketability. Retailers rank consumer needs second.

"They deal with consumers every day so they already have a deep knowledge base," says Al Kober, meat sales and merchandising director with Clemens Meats.

Not surprising, retailers say that more retail promotion and merchandising holds the key to selling more pork. All other pork-value chain segments see those factors as the No. 2 priority.
If you were to look at each pork-chain segment individually, you would see that the remaining factors line up in close proximity, simply flip-flopping in rank. For example, "new end-product development" and "more consistent information sharing" line up in third or fourth place depending on the segment.

Packers see "creation of alliances" as the fourth most important factor, while everyone else place it in the No. 5 or No. 6 spot.

Other noteworthy points from the segment-by-segment analysis are that "certified-production systems" and "production designed for specific end-traits" generally rank in the bottom half of the list.

However, retailers and foodservice operators have a different view. Both say that certified-production systems are the fifth most important factor for pork to reach its marketing potential. This philosophy is important for other segments to note because the retail and foodservice segments have the power to drive this point home. Both segments have already started the process as Kroger, McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and a host of others are requiring suppliers to meet animal welfare and handling standards – and the programs involve on-site audits as proof.

The fact that the producer segment ranks "certified-production systems" dead last, shows a critical misalignment.

Somewhat surprising is the fact that identity preservation ranks last or next to last among all segments – except with packers/processors, who rate it seventh.

"Of course the survey was conducted in June and July 2001; identity preservation might receive a higher score since Sept. 11," says David Meisinger, assistant vice president of pork quality for the National Pork Board. He believes several factors such as animal welfare also have gained in importance.

As with many of the survey findings, "it would be interesting to see how these factors have changed or will change over time," says Gary Ledger, a pork producer from Washington, Iowa.

Who's responsible? From childhood on we learn that responsibility can be an ominous thing.

When something goes wrong, it's human nature to look for the responsible party. But responsibility also can be approached in a proactive and positive manner.

Businesses that rely on a system – such as the pork chain – where products and services link each segment, responsibilities are often linked as well.

The Pork-Value Chain Communication Gap Survey asked participants about responsibilities and roles within the industry. These responses again offer interesting insights into perceptions and realities.

Interestingly, all pork-chain segments agreed that producers take the greatest business risk, and by a significant margin. Here's a look at the percentage of other segments who say producers take on the most risk:

  • Packers/processors - 48 percent
  • Wholesalers/distributors - 35 percent
  • Foodservice operators - 30 percent
  • Retailers - 39 percent

Asked who's most responsible for meeting consumers needs, the following percentages of survey participants point to retailers.

  • Producers - 20 percent
  • Packers/processors - 31 percent
  • Distributors/wholesalers - 32 percent
  • Foodservice operators - 17 percent
  • Retailers - 58 percent

Packers actually rank themselves higher (33 percent) than retailers. Foodservice operators say they're just as responsible for meeting consumers needs (17 percent) as retailers.

Retailers also received the highest responses when asked who has the greatest impact on building future pork demand. Here are percentages of other segments that place demand responsibilities on retailers' shoulders.

  • Producers - 23 percent
  • Packers/processors - 26 percent
  • Distributors/wholesalers - 25 percent
  • Foodservice operators - 16 percent
  • Retailers - 35 percent

    Again, foodservice operators rank themselves on par with retailers (15 percent) in terms of building future demand. Foodservice operators and retailers say producers play a significant role. Both segments rank producers second highest – 15 percent of foodservice
    operators and 19 percent of retailers say producers have the greatest impact on future pork demand.
    It's important to note that there is a perception of shared responsibility in most areas. For example, in terms of food safety, product quality, adding value, meeting consumer needs and building future demand, anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the survey participants agreed that the responsibilities divide equally across all pork-chain segments.

    Perception, knowledge and understanding are all critical to bridging communication gaps that might exist in any business system. The Pork-Value Communication Gaps Survey provides insights never before measured.

    With that information in hand, the pork chain has an opportunity to achieve everyone's goal – to profitably build pork demand into the future. Now, the challenge to act lies with you and other members of the chain. n

    Editor's note: The Pork-Value Chain Communication Gap Survey was conducted in 2001 by Philip Morris Management Corp., Vance Publishing's Food Systems Group and Pork magazine. See the January and February 2002 issues for additional reports.