The National Pork Board has released its Taste and Preferences study, which looks at consumer reactions to pork quality traits such as color, marbling and cooking performance. The results of this study reveal some areas of opportunity for retailers to help educate consumers on pork cuts, enhancements and cooking methods.

"This study was geared toward unveiling insights into consumers' tastes and preferences for pork," says Jarrod Sutton, NPB's retail marketing director. "In the long run, we believe the results from this survey can help us overcome barriers consumers perceive regarding pork, and help retailers move more pork out of the meatcase."

In an effort to evaluate four key quality measures that influence eating quality, NPB surveyed a panel of general consumers and a panel of sensory-trained individuals. The four quality measures that the two panels looked at were fresh pork color; intramuscular fat or marbling; ending pH; and cooked pork Warner Bratzler shear force — a measure which simulates chewing texture.

Each of these four quality measures were applied to enhanced and non-enhanced pork loin chops, and evaluated at four end-point cooking temperatures — 145° F, 155° F, 165° F and 175° F.  

According to John Green, NPB's strategic marketing director, 2,280 consumers were a part of the testing in Chicago, Philadelphia and Sacramento. The trained-sensory testing took place at Texas A&M University and Iowa State University. All assessments were done under red light, so participants weren't influenced by visual cues such as color.

"With both panels, favorability ratings rose with increased pork loin pH," says Green. "Pork with higher pH levels holds more water and is, therefore, juicier. It makes sense that consumers would prefer a juicier pork product."

Shear force, or chewing texture, was the other pork quality attribute that influenced the panels' eating quality perceptions. As the shear force increased, consumer ratings of tenderness, juiciness and overall preference declined. In addition, participants preferred the results from lower cooking temperatures versus high ones, and enhanced products were preferred over non-enhanced.

Green says one of the implications is to work with processing plants to develop practical methods for measuring pH consistently and accurately. This study could spark the additional research needed.

"This research also outlines the need for additional consumer education about non-enhanced fresh pork products," Green says. "Retailers can provide guidance to consumers in regards to cooking methods and temperatures."
Source: National Pork Board