Consumers asked for natural pork products and companies are responding – a trend that has grown significantly in the last year. With the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe, as well as concerns over food safety and environmental issues at home, natural pork products are filling a growing niche in the United States.

What exactly is a "natural product"? USDA defines natural as: a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (not fundamentally altering the raw product). The product label must explain the use of the term natural – such as, no added colorings or artificial ingredients or minimally processed.

"From the retailers we've visited, there's a big interest in offering a natural product line," says Karen Boillot, director of retail marketing, National Pork Board.

"Retailers aren't looking at it as a replacement for their regular lines," she continues. "At this point, they realize it's not contributing to their bottom dollar. They are trying to determine if natural products are filling a niche for their customers."
Natural products are most popular on the West Coast and in the Northeast. Although they're gaining in popularity, these products can cost 30 percent to 50 percent more than standard product lines.

Here are some examples of natural pork products available on the market today. All of these products tout the distinction of being antibiotic-free.

The Maverick Ranch Association is expanding its natural beef business into the natural pork arena. The Roy Moore family founded the beef business in 1985 on a ranch near Weiser, Idaho.

The company is in the early stages of marketing different lines of natural pork products. The first is:

  • Ozark Mountain Free-Range Pork
    A West Plains, Mo., producer, Charlie Scudder, contacted Roy Moore about marketing a free-range pork product. Scudder now markets about 20,000 Tamworth hogs annually, which are slaughtered at his own small processing plant. Plus, Moore says he has lined up another 300,000 hogs whose pork products will bear the free-range label.

    All of the hogs are raised outdoors in pastures. The producers involved with the free-range pork disagree with confinement production operations because they contend there are potential environmental and health problems for pigs and people.

    Ozark Mountain Free-Range Pork, which includes low-sodium, cured and naturally smoked pork chops, ham and bacon, is being test-marketed in Denver.

  • Nature's Bounty Natural Pork
    This is another pork product that Maverick Ranch will soon be marketing.

    The product comes from Quebec, Canada's du Breton Natural Pork. Like the Ozark producers, du Breton's pork producers believe in raising pigs in systems that have a minimal impact on the environmental. Plus, they use transitional organic grain in feed and practice extensive manure recycling. "Family farmers with small operations who must adhere to responsible animal husbandry practices produce all of the pork," according to the company.

    Napoleon and Adrienne Breton founded Le Groupe Breton in 1944 as an animal-feed distribution company, and began livestock production in 1954.

    The company offers a full line of pork products including roasts, tenderloins, pork chops and filets. The products are sold under the du Breton name in Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Mustard Seed supermarkets throughout the United States.

    Moore is in the early stages of marketing Nature's Bounty Natural Pork. Several retailers have approached Moore about providing natural pork products. Plus, Moore notes that Maverick Ranch will donate natural pork products to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The company already provides natural beef products to the athletes.

    For more information about Maverick Ranch and these related products, call (800) 497-2624 or e-mail: www.maverickranch.com.

  • Pederson's Natural Farms
    Pederson's Natural Farms, Hamilton, Texas, concentrates on producing locally grown, lean, healthful pork. The company uses a single seedstock supplier, the Hanor Company, Mooreland, Okla. Pederson Natural Farms stresses the importance of humane animal handling and care with animals raised in an environmentally friendly production system.

    Pederson Natural Farms markets a complete line of bone-in fancy trim pork and a selection of smoked meats. All products are free of nitrites, nitrates and monosodium glutamate. The company uses authentic ingredients, including real jalapenos in the Smoke Jalapeno Sausage and natural sea salt in the uncured salt pork. The products are sold in Central Markets in Texas, and Whole Foods in Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas.

    For more information, call (254) 386-5340 or e-mail www.healthypork.com.

  • Seaboard Farms
    Seaboard Farms, Shawnee, Kan., has its own natural product, PrairieFresh 'n Natural pork. Products are available in butts, spareribs, backribs, loins, tenderloins and sirloins, at Holiday Quality Foods in northern California and Thriftway, Century and McKay's Markets in Oregon. Seaboard Farms institutes a fully integrated production system to ensure end-product control, quality and safety from start to finish. Products come with Temp-Chec disposable cooking thermometers to ensure proper cooking.

    For the second consecutive year, the American Heart Association has proclaimed PrairieFresh pork tenderloins as a heart-healthy food. For more information, call (800) 262-7907 or e-mail: www.seaboardpork.com.

  • Farmland
    Farmland promotes that its All Natural Fresh Pork is traceable from the farm to the store.

    To earn the "All Natural" distinction, producers raising hogs for Farmland's America's Best Pork program also must follow a strict continuous improvement process, complete with fully documented veterinary treatment and medication records. Producers also must adhere to stringent on-farm transportation and animal-handling practices, along with specific dietary and feed ingredient guidelines.

    The All Natural Fresh Pork cuts are available as pork tenderloins, pork butts, spareribs, backribs, Kansas City-style ribs, sirloins, roasts and outside flats. The products are being test-marketed on the West Coast.

    For more information on the product or program, call (800) 843-6603 or e-mail: www.farmlandfood.com.