Home Meal Replacement: No Need to Cook (Consumers)
Nearly 75 percent of supermarkets are offering some sort of prepared meals, and 45 percent employ food professionals, according to an article in Meat and Seafood Merchandising, a retail marketing publication.

Most consumers still don't want to cook, but trends suggest their preference is to eat at home. The article further explains that consumers are shifting away from fast-food fare for takeout. The fastest growth is occurring in supermarkets – 22 percent of shoppers now say it's their primary choice for purchasing a prepared meal. That's up from 12 percent in 1996.

Make That To Go Please
Here's a look at where today's shoppers are likely to get their takeout food. These numbers are for the past two years, and 1998 shows signs of a continuation.

Fast-food restaurants 48% (1996) 41% (1997)
Other restaurants 25% (1996) 21% (1997)
Supermarkets 12% (1996) 22% (1997)

Source: Meat & Seafood Merchandising magazine

Retail Note
At 4 p.m., 60 percent of Americans have no idea what they'll have for dinner.
American Meat Institute survey

Meat on the Side? (Consumers)
Meat, traditionally the main course, may be taking a new course if some consumer surveys turn out to be accurate.

With consumers' ever-changing eating habits, meat no longer is assured a center-of-the-plate spot. It's often relegated to the sidelines or even added as a flavor enhancer.

Bacon's new-found home on fast-food burgers, pizzas and tacos is one such example. Some pasta dishes or stir-fry recipes may contain small amounts of meat. That makes meat an ingredient of the entree or, in some cases, makes it a side dish, notes Supermarket News, a publication that covers the grocery store industry.

That's not necessarily bad. Renewing meat's versatility may actually encourage more cooks to use more meat. A consumer may add meat to a dish where he or she wouldn't have otherwise taken the time to prepare a whole roast.

Meat consumption is in no immediate danger of declining drastically, but the ways in which consumers and chefs use meat are changing. With that, retailers recognize they, too, must change the way they cut, package and present meat in their stores.
Once a center-of-the-plate item, meat is finding a place as an ingredient. That may actually encourage more people to eat more meat.

Hot Dogs Invade Russia, China (Products)
No, that's not the name of a bad horror movie. Russia and China are importing record amounts of made-in-the-USA wieners, notes the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

Russians are turning to hot dogs as a major protein source. As a result, U.S. hot dog sales have jumped from $122,000 in 1992 to more than $70 million in 1996.

Street vendors are everywhere with prices from 50 cents to $2. Russians prefer franks loaded with garlic. They also prefer poultry over pork and beef varieties, but that's because of price.

In China, U.S. hot dogs are favorites of the young and the well-to-do. But the future is enormous. Beijing alone has 10 million consumers who want more American fast-food options.

Again, adapting to consumer tastes is key. The Chinese like their franks sweet and they eat them cold. A warmed-up version is starting to take hold, but it's presented sans the bun.

They prefer the poultry variety too, but beef and pork also sell well.

Learn About Your Pork Quality/Food Safety Role (Meat of Choice)
Everyone in the pork chain is responsible for pork quality and food safety, but it starts on the farm. That's why it's important to learn more about how you can ensure that you are producing a safe, high-quality food product.

Two educational vehicles available to you this summer do just that.

  • Pork 101: This two-day, hands-on course covers everything from live hog evaluation through slaughter and processing. You can participate in any of several sessions scheduled at universities throughout the summer. They are sponsored by the National Pork Producers Council and American Meat Science Association.
  • Pork Quality and Food Safety Summit II: Des Moines, Iowa, will play host to this year's Pork Quality Summit, which has expanded to include pre- and post-harvest food safety. Sponsored by NPPC and PORK'98, July 14-15 are sure to be two intensive but informative days.

For more information on either of these events, call (800) 456-7675
Anyone involved in the pork chain has a vested interested in Pork 101 and the Pork Quality and Food Safety Summit II. Both provide tremendous insight into the production and processing of quality pork.

Business Note
With population growth dwindling, the food business competition will get even tougher.
Roger Blackwell, marketing professor, The Ohio State University

Weekends offer a Time to Cook (Consumers)
The Sunday dinner is alive and well. It seems more Americans are using their limited "extra" time on weekends to make their weekday lives easier.

According to the Weekend vs. Weekday Dining Survey, conducted by Bruskin-Goldring Research for the National Pork Producers Council, 46 percent of today's cooks prepare a big weekend meal to last through the week.

Entertaining and experimentation is a weekend cooking event as well. Fifty-six percent of Americans spend more time preparing weekend meals than they do the other five days. Here are some other results:

  • Among respondents, 48 percent said they're willing to spend an hour or more cooking a meal on the weekend, but only 37 percent said they would dedicate that much time on a weekday.
  • Sunday is still the feast day, according to 41 percent of the cooks. Another 15 percent said they cook a big meal on Saturday.
  • The survey found Americans are just as likely to cook during the week as on the weekend – 25 percent weekend, 25 percent weekday, 47 percent no difference. However, they'll spend less time doing it. Fifty-six percent spend less than one hour preparing a weekday meal. Of those ages 25 to 34, 66 percent said an hour is too long.

Disease-Resistant Pork (Research)
Would you be interested in raising pigs that held a natural resistance to disease? Researchers at USDA's Agriculture Research Service have cloned pig genes that are suspected to allow pigs to resist Toxoplasma gondii.

ARS scientists are working to identify swine genes that endow natural resistance against specific infections. The genes could help newborn pigs more rapidly resist many diseases.

Researchers have found genetic variance in pigs' abilities to resist T. gondii infection. They expect to be able to identify the genes responsible for T. gondii resistance, letting you select disease-resistant stock.

Although T. gondii seldom causes illness in pigs or people, it is responsible for birth defects when women are infected during pregnancy. In addition, it generates serious problems for people with suppressed immune systems.

In the United States, approximately 10 percent of young adults carry T. gondii in their tissue. Infection increases to about 40 percent in older people. Contamination is caused by improperly cooked meat and contact with cat feces.

According to ARS, only 2 percent of market hogs carry the parasite. Infection is prevented by properly freezing and cooking meat.

Advances like this can build consumer confidence by eliminating one more food safety concern.

Book Tells Kids Eating is OK
Children are eating less meat and drinking less milk than 20 years ago, but a new book on nutrition offers ways to start reversing that trend.

In Afraid to Eat: Children and Teens in Weight Crisis, author Frances Berg takes a look at potentially dangerous eating habits and how to change them.

Berg notes that pressures to be thin and to avoid eating animal products are causing children to turn away from meat, eggs and milk. Animal-rights
activists target young consumers to spread their message. In her book, Berg offers some practical solutions to stem the tide of children with unhealthy obsessions about weight.

By age 11, American girls are so concerned about being thin that most no longer eat normally, Berg reports. She contends two-thirds of teenage girls have abnormal eating behaviors. Half are severely undernourished, and 10 percent suffer from potentially fatal
eating disorders.

Among Berg's suggestions: Parents can stop dieting and restore normal eating habits in the home.

Afraid to Eat sells for $17.95 and is available in many bookstores. Or you can order by writing to Healthy Weight Publishing Network, 402 S. 14th St., Hettinger, ND 58639. You may call (701) 567-2646 or send a fax to (701) 567-2602.

Berg also is available for workshops to teach her strategies to battle eating disorders and detrimental information from the media and animal-rights activists.

To find out more, call the number above or contact her on the Internet at www.HealthyWeightNetwork.com.

No Smoking Gun for Smoked Meats (Consumers)
Smoked meats received a clean bill thanks to a Council for Agricultural Science and Technology task force report.

The task force reviewed studies on cured meats and the controversies surrounding them. The members found that nitrite levels used as meat preservatives have dropped 80 percent since the 1970s – from 40 parts per million to 10 ppm. At the same time, processors have started adding vitamin C and E to meats to speed up the curing process. The vitamins also inhibit the formation of controversial nitrosamines in the stomach.

The task force report also rebuts decades of studies linking nitrites with cancer, saying many of those scientists have since backed away from their original claims.

Pork in the Spotlight (Promotions)
Pork was featured in Low Fat-No Fat magazine's spring issue. It included a 10-page, full-color spread titled "Positively Pork." It highlighted 14 pork recipes.

The article suggests rediscovering pork for stews, chowders or wraps. It included a variety of recipes, such as Pecos red stew, cheesy potato ham chowder, pork and broccoli in phyllo and Indonesian bamie with pork loin.

Ostrich Meat Approved Heart Healthy (Competing Meats)
No sense sticking your head in the sand, there's even more protein competition. Ostrich meat is gaining attention.

The American Heart Association – and its counterparts in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Japan, China, France and 20 other countries – have given their Heart-Healthy blessing to ostrich meat.

"Ostrich meat is lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than skinless chicken or turkey," says Ostriches On Line owner Steve Warrington. He's been the leading force behind ostrich meat global promotion. It is said to be 99 percent fat free.

Interested in checking out the nutritional statistics? A fact sheet is available through the Internet at www.ostrichesonline.com/meat/nutritionindex.html.

Consumers Play Role in Safe Food Supply (Food Safety)
All the talk about food safety and the adoption of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point standards should have you thinking about what you can do on the farm to ensure food safety.

But there's another side of the equation. Consumers have a responsibility to ensure their food is safe. Anytime you talk with a potential pork consumer, it's an opportunity to educate them about their role.

The American Health Institute reports that consumers have some frighteningly bad habits they must correct before any food-safety initiative from the farm to the store can succeed.

AHI cites a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report on unsafe food-handling practices. According to FDA, 50 percent of consumers eat raw or undercooked eggs. FDA says 26 percent don't wash cutting surfaces after trimming raw meat. Also, 23 percent consume undercooked hamburger, and 17 percent eat raw clams or oysters.

Education is critical in getting consumers to select, store and prepare food safely. AHI offers these six tips from George Beran of Iowa State University's Food Safety Consortium:

1. Buy refrigerated foods last and get them home fast.

2. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

3. When preparing food, don't cross-contaminate.

4. Cook food appropriately and thoroughly.

5. When storing food, don't wait: refrigerate.

6. When in doubt, throw leftovers out.

"Good management practices in handling and managing foods – from the time consumers purchase food at the store to the time they eat it at home – are crucial," says Bonnie Buntain, a veterinarian with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Healthy and unstressed animals on the farm pose less risk of pathogens and violative residues, Buntain says. Once you've done your job and gained consumers' confidence, you can't afford an ill-informed individual preparing an unsafe meal.

Taste, Convenience: Pork is not Alone (Consumers)
When it comes to demanding more taste and convenience in food, U.S. consumers aren't just picking on pork.

At this year's United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association meeting, a marketing panel explained that Americans want produce with more flavor. They also want it sliced, diced and accompanied with a recipe. Sound familiar?

An industry survey showed 84 percent of consumers ranked flavor the most important trait in fruits and vegetables. Freshness followed at 81 percent.

Max Nisson, vice president of sales and marketing for Freshpoint, an Atlanta food-service company, predicts that supermarket produce departments will expand in the future. Not because more exotic items will be added but because retailers will offer more conveniently prepared fruits and vegetables. "Busy consumers will continue to buy more value-added products," he said. Again, sound familiar?