Pork producers need to proactively communicate with consumers to change the dialogue

Fri, 19 Jan 2018

Pork producers and swine veterinarians need to take a more active role in consumers’ food conversations for them to get an accurate picture of how pigs are raised, said Tamika Sims, PhD, director of food technology and communications for the International Food Information Council.

“In order to change the direction of the conversation and impact on consumers, you have to participate,” she told Pig Health Today. “It’s easy for consumers to be educated inaccurately.”

IFIC communicates with consumers about facts associated with the food and beverage industries at both the retail and restaurant levels, with science as the baseline. The council conducts annual surveys to gauge consumer trends and priorities.

IFIC’s latest survey polled more than 1,000 consumers, ages 18 to 80, whose demographic mix reflected the US population. Among the results, IFIC found that when it comes to information on antibiotics and meat production consumers most commonly turn to news headlines as their information source. “News headlines could include social media or something a blogger might post — something that reads like a headline,” Sims noted.

Government agencies ranked low as a food-information source, yet when asked specifically about FDA’s new antibiotic rules and the veterinary feed directive they responded positively. The IFIC survey showed that FDA’s actions increased the confidence level in 40% of consumers surveyed, 30% had no change and 10% weren’t sure.

“We can see that when FDA does change the rules, or take action, it does resonate with consumers,” Sims noted. “We asked about this specifically because animal antibiotic resistance has been a popular topic lately.”

She added, “We also learned that consumers’ confidence in veterinarians and farmers, as well as their confidence in buying animal products, has grown since last year.”

Clean labels are consumers’ current priority. That means simple products with few ingredients and ingredients they can recognize. It would seem logical that would bode well for fresh pork, since it is a one-ingredient product.

“Consumers also want to know about the food’s journey,” Sims relayed. “Other claims that resonate are natural and organic, no hormones, no antibiotics, no antibiotics ever.”

She acknowledged that consumers have many misconceptions about organic products and that they’re perceived to be healthier than non-organic counterparts.

“At IFIC, we try to address that the nutritional value is the same,” Sims said. She advised producers and swine veterinarians to look for creative ways to relate to consumers, have a conversation and share their stories.