Today, current and former National Pork Board directors, staff and supporters celebrated the first meeting of the NPB, as well as 25 years of the National Pork Checkoff.
While pork producers first organized in the 1940s under the umbrella of the National Swine Growers Council, the producer efforts and priorities have grown dramatically and become increasingly diverse over the years.
Jim Meimann, executive vice president of governance and operations, discussed the evolution of the checkoff with AgriTalk on Tuesday. Meiman is one of nine staff members who has been with NPB for the past 25 years.
In the 1960s, the National Swine Growers became the National Pork Producers Council. “They changed their name from swine to pork to indicate that they were producing food for the consuming public,” Meimann notes.
Funding was nearly non-existent, which prompted a group known as the Moline 90—“a landmark group in our history,” Meiman adds, to put their own money on the table to get the organization’s programs and activities moving forward. This also resulted in the formation of the first voluntary checkoff program. It was known as “Nickels for Profit.” Under the program, pork producers contributed 5 cents for every hog marketed.
It was a grassroots, county, state and national effort. “It required strong communication between producers to convince fellow producer to invest,” Meimann says, “as well as convincing markets that it was a wise investment to collect those dollars.”
While “Nickels for Profit” evolved into programs involving dime and double-dimes contributions, which ran for the next 20 years, there was a ceiling to the voluntary producer participation level—at about 50 percent to 55 percent. But that ceiling also was limiting NPPC’s programs and abilities to serve producers.
In the mid-80s a producer committee investigated the checkoff needs and options and decided to pursue a legislative checkoff program that would require everyone to participate. After much negotiation and compromise, the industry took their proposal to Congress, which included the National Pork Checkoff in the 1985 Farm Bill. Today, all U.S. pork producers and importers pay 40 cents per $100 of value of each hogs sold, as well as when pigs or pork products are brought into the United States.
As part of Pork Act legislation, USDA received oversight responsibilities of checkoff funds and NPB was created out of NPPC. Only NPB receives the mandatory checkoff dollars and that money is spent on the U.S. pork industry’s efforts in the areas of promotion, education and research.
NPPC meanwhile, is a separate member-driven group, which focuses on legislation, regulations and public policy. It receives no checkoff funding.
Among the best known programs associated with the pork checkoff is Pork. The Other White Meat advertising campaign. “It was one of the first items brought to the Pork Board,” Meimann notes, “and it was met with a great deal of skepticism.” Of course, the campaign went on to become one of the top five most recognizable slogans.
“It was a resounding success. It did what we needed it to do at the time,” Meimann says. “People thought of pork as fat, unhealthy, inferior; but we had the product and the science to compare it to the healthier perceptions of a white meat.”
This past spring, NPB rolled out the new “Pork. Be Inspired” campaign as pork’s promotional program. “Research showed us that Pork. The Other White Meat may have played itself out,” Meimann says. Consumers’ views on pork’s healthfulness had changed, so it wasn’t having the same level of impact it once had.
“Consumers had gotten the message, so we needed something that could drive us further downt the road and touch consumers in a fresh creative way,” he adds.
The pork checkoff and NPB may have 25 years under their belt, but they’re looking forward to 25 more.