The Pork Chain and Quality

David Meeker, Ph.D.
Vice President, Research and Education
National Pork Producers Council
Des Moines, IA

Production of all goods in industrialized societies is moving in the direction of prescription crops. Consumers preferences hi terms of quality attributes, price, delivery, and services are quickly being communicated back to production systems in automobiles, computers, packaged goods and even health care. Animal food industries are among the last to adopt the necessary information systems, standards, and controls to efficiently meet the specific demands of the end consumer. These efforts must serve both production efficiency and consumer preferences.

The best example of meeting these challenges in the meat industry is poultry. UPS. pork must quickly develop the necessary systems to compete on this higher level if it is to be the "Meat of Choice" in the future.

Intentional pork competitors also recognize the need for change. The Danish ISO 9000, Dutch IKB, and British Blueprint programs arc examples of quality chain systems that facilitate branding, quality improvement, and customer service.

NPPC has developed a number of pro; rams that provide a foundation to move to the next higher level of production and marketing. These include pork quality assurance, genetic evaluation, lean value marketing, food safety initiatives, quality audits, consumer prefer en :e studies, consumer segmentation studies, marketing alternatives, and marketing access work. The USDA efforts in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), packers branding programs and producer networks can facilitate the movement of pork into this modern world of marketing to consumers.

The issues to be addressed by NPPC are:

Non action by NPPC is probably unacceptable to members. Leaving standards development to the marketplace will allow development of private standards by each branding entity (as has been the case in processed hams). leading to confusion and inefficiencies in trial-and-error discoveries of consumer preferences. I he inability of the pork industry to meet this challenge would lead to further integration (if that is the best way consumer needs are met), or loss of market share by the pork industry as a whole.

The pork industry can no longer afford to have the various sectors: input, producing, processing, delivering, merchandising, and service, each pursuing their oven objectives without regard for the other sectors, and more importantly, without regard for the final consumer.

The pork industry must involve the entire chain in developing joint objectives based on consumer desires. Standards based on research data and e consensus of experts should be set to allow improvements of products and performance at each stage. Important factors along the chain must be measured and information necessary to more efficiently advance toward the objectives must flow freely.

The pork industry has people, programs, research, and information at numerous points along the pork chain. Many individual efforts have been made to improve processes and activities that affect pork demand. These dispersed entities should come together to jointly determine how pork should be produced, processed, delivered, packaged, stored, and merchandised to best serve the needs of consumers and thus become the "Meat of Choice."

NPPC should continue to lead and facilitate this unification and push for the development of standards in every important aspect of production and marketing. Many areas have no standards or "best industry practices" at all. It is important to establish a starting point for these. As new information becomes available or the marketing environment changes, standards can be adjusted. In some areas, industry agreement may not be easily reached.

The Pork Chain Consortium may be the entity to obtain agreement on the approach to building quality production and marketing chains. Agreement, cooperation, and commitment among all major players in the pork chain must be secured to make the systems work.

The Pork Chain Consortium is a loosely organized group representing all segments from production inputs to the end consumers. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) identified the need for exchange of information among and coordination of these segments in the 1994 report of the Pork Chain Quality Audit Progress Report. The audit was conducted to identify barriers to expanding markets for pork. The Consortium works on strategies to:

  1. Increase consumer demand.
  2. Increase export demand.
  3. Decrease costs with increased efficiency of production and processing.
  4. Decrease costs with increased coordination.

Other items which the Consortium could address include:

  1. Public image.
  2. Inequity of inspection and regulations.
  3. Vertical relationship management trust development.
  4. Export development.
  5. Economic competitiveness.
  6. Risk sharing.
  7. Quality and its many aspects.
  8. Value-based marketing.
  9. Technology development and adoption.
  10. 10. Economic feedback and incentive systems.
  11. Quality standard identification in international markets.

As producers debated and implemented a new Long Range Strategic Plan in 1993 and 1994 they realized the challenges of the industry were too difficult for them to address alone. In 1994 the NPPC bylaws were changed to include a non-producer on its Board of Directors. NPPC has recently formed a committee to study these issues and make recommendations on how a new industry organization may be formed to better coordinate the pork chain. Models such as the National Cotton Council will be studied for ideas that may work for pork.

NPPC is well on its way to becoming an industry organization. This change along with the objective of making pork the "Meat of Choice" will enhance opportunities for all stake holders in the pork chain who add value to the consumer's pork experience.