Consumer Perspectives on Pork Quality

I was recently at the National Swine Improvement Federation (NSFI) conference in Raleigh, NC. This conference is held annually with most attendees being involved directly in the pork genetics industry. One of the key topics this year was consumer perspective and pork quality. Three different speakers, one from the National Pork Board, one private consultant, and one from the warehouse retailer Sam’s Club (owned by Wal-Mart) gave excellent talks about consumers’ wants and how the industry is not meeting these demands, writes Nick Boddicker, PhD.
calendar icon 23 December 2016
clock icon 5 minute read

Here are some interesting facts from the speakers:

  • 38% of US households are non-pork consumers
  • 29% of US households account for 62% of the total fresh pork consumed
  • 41% of US households consume bacon
  • Pork is losing linear feet in the meat counter to:

    - Beef – it's hard to beat a good steak
    - Chicken – it's healthy and versatile
    - Salmon – tastes good, healthy, and versatile
  • Seafood is growing in linear feet in retail stores
  • Poultry is winning poundage shares, but not dollar shares
  • Poultry continues to increase in per capita consumption
  • It’s the only meat that is expected to increase based on Sam’s Club models
  • Pork loin demand is on the decline
  • Belly and ribs are supporting the pork cutout
  • Not many pork options on restaurant menus

As a whole, these are concerning figures and statements for the swine industry. Clearly, the consumer has spoken by consuming less pork year after year (4% decrease in the last 10 years according to the United States Department of Agriculture), but is the industry listening? At the producer and packing level, pork production is all about pounds of lean meat. This is probably why there are no meat quality standards and why the pork quality grading system has not been updated since 1985, nearly 31 years ago. According to consumer research presented by Laura Bachmeir from the National Pork Board, there is a considerable amount of variation in terms of color and marbling within pork products, such as fresh pork chops, offered to consumers at the retail level. This is not positive as consumers desire with-in product consistency over time. It is difficult to go into a store and get the same quality of product week after week.

In order to improve the above figures the industry should change its objectives. All three speakers independently said the same thing; “the pork industry needs to align the grading with consumers demands.” The beef industry has done this and has been successful. Their grading system ranges from select to prime depending on the amount of marbling and the color of the meat. One of the speakers discussed a blind study that aimed to see if consumers could taste the difference between select and choice beef, and they could. However, the consumers could not describe the difference in the grading categories, only that the choice beef was a better eating experience.

One limitation to grading pork is the lack of technology that can grade at the speed of the line. Human grading is subjective and time consuming. Once the technology is available and standards (marbling, color, pH) are developed, the consumer should be informed as to what they mean and what are acceptable values. The consumers can tell the difference when they eat pork with more marbling and tenderness. Panelists in a recent taste test of Genesus pork gave better sensory scores (higher overall texture, juiciness, flavor, and overall opinion) for the meat with higher pH and intramuscular fat, two important measures of pork quality. With a grading system similar to that of the beef industry, consumers could relate choice or prime pork with a positive and consistent eating experience.

Another issue that leads to a poor eating experience is cooking techniques. Many consumers still believe that pork should be cooked to 165 F (74 C) because of trichinosis. Modern swine production has almost eliminated the disease through production practices, i.e. the pigs are not reared outside and fed table scraps. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), trichinosis has decreased from 400 cases per year in the 1940s to 20 cases per year in the 2000s. The current recommended cooking temperature for pork is 145 F, or 63 C (

As we have previously written, Genesus is dedicated to improving carcass and meat quality. Genesus pigs regularly meet Japan’s pork quality requirements, which has strict criteria for marbling, color, and pH. Once the North American market develops its own standards (currently being reevaluated and developed by the National Pork Board), Genesus customers will be able to collect premiums without changing their population structure or production practices. There appears to be a growing interest as an industry to improve pork quality. Now words need to be turned into action.


"Trichinellosis Fact Sheet – Division of Parasitic Diseases". Centre for Disease Control, US Government. August 2012.

USDA. U.S. Beef and Pork Consumption Projected To Rebound.

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