Consumers are spending almost half of their food dollars in the foodservice arena. With that amount expected to grow, the pork industry is looking for ways to capture more of those dollars.

“There are a lot of two-person, working households that depend on foodservice to fill their mealtime,” says Jeff Pigott, National Pork Board’s foodservice marketing director. “Many of these people don’t have the time, skill or desire to cook.”

As foodservice becomes more important to consumers, they’re becoming more demanding. Pigott says consumers want variety, but are looking for a safe venture with a few new ideas. Consumers also are looking for more authenticity in ethnic items.

One new venture that comes to mind involves well-known fast-food giant, McDonald’s. It’s opening a new Cajun restaurant, Chef Mac’s, in New Orleans. The restaurant will feature upscale, quick, gourmet-casual foods, says a corporate spokesperson.

“The McDonald’s concept has matured; the company is looking for growth,” says Pigott. “The chains that you see growing are the ones that offer fast food and a casual atmosphere.”

Not only do new restaurants offer the chance for pork to be included on menus, but so do existing restaurants. For instance, the Mexican chain restaurant – Chipotle’s – offers pork carnitas.

“We’re introducing pork as the new center-of-the-plate protein to consumers,” says Pigott. “We can give them a new choice and new flavors with pork, whereas beef overtakes the spices, and poultry takes on the spice flavors.”

Barbeque is another big push. “It’s a category that pork really owns; when you’re talking barbeque, you’re talking pork,” says Pigott. “It also fits a relaxed, casual lifestyle.”

All of these ventures are giving pork the opportunity to capture more of the total foodservice dollars. “Consumers are willing to spend more for quality and we’re seeing them do it with pork,” adds Pigott.