The focus of this special Blueprint issue of National Hog Farmer is “Maintaining Markets.” That title encompasses a lot of things, ranging from earning consumer trust to building export markets, and strategizing to maintain market access.

Continuing the Blueprint Tradition

This issue continues National Hog Farmer’s long-standing tradition of offering our readers two special print editions of the magazine each year that take a look at key challenges pork producers are facing. These special editions, known from inception as the Blueprint Series for Top Managers, serve as reference issues for our readers. The very first Blueprint was published on Nov. 1, 1985. From the beginning, we have asked our Blueprint authors to take a look at the “big picture” as it pertains to the topic on which we are focusing.

When it comes to big-picture thinking on behalf of the pork industry, none can compare to Steve Meyer, economist and owner of Paragon Economics Inc., Adel, IA. In his article, Meyer takes a comprehensive look at a few of the many factors that make U.S. pork competitive. He reminds us that consumers must want your product, and, at the end of the day, consumers are the ones who will determine pork value. Meyer also makes the point that enhancing consumer-defined quality is a difficult task, but one that must be done if the pork industry is to grow and prosper. “The industry must continue to respond to consumer needs for consistency and convenience,” he says.

Exports Have Significant Market Impact

Did you know that the U.S. pork industry exports more than one-fourth of its total production? Did you also realize that the export market for U.S. pork added $53.95 in value per hog marketed in the U.S. in 2013? That is a pretty impressive number. Have you ever wondered where that U.S. pork is going? The staff of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) provides answers to a long list of export questions while providing an update on key export markets in the article titled, “Market Access Challenges for U.S. Pork." Of course, part of the challenge when building and maintaining a strong export market involves dealing with trade barriers. This article includes an excellent discussion about how some trading partners have been addressing the use of beta-agonists.

The end user is an essential part of the marketing picture. Purdue University researchers Nicole Olynk Widmar and Melissa McKendree note that there are several relationships that must be considered when it comes to maintaining markets. Consumers, whether in restaurant or supermarket settings, are increasingly interested in social issues and the production processes that are used to produce their food. Like it or not, consumer perceptions about pork production do impact buying decisions. Widmar and McKendree have completed several research projects that look at some of the factors that shape consumer perceptions. They explain that consumers in the past were mainly concerned with factors like the fat or nutritional content of the pork they were buying. Today’s shoppers are adding other considerations such as animal welfare, potential environmental impacts of livestock operations, and even farmworker safety when making meat-buying decisions.

Advocate for Your Industry

The current battle against the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) brings a unique marketing situation combining the possibility of high market prices with significant market risk. Mark Greenwood, senior vice president, relationship management with AgStar Financial Services, takes a look at the market situation from an ag lender’s perspective in the story, “Maintaining Markets in Uncharted Times." He strongly urges pork producers to be advocates for the industry by being engaged on the farm, within the local community, with elected officials and through social media. He tells producers, “You have a lot at stake, but telling your personal story of what you do and why you do it will become more important than ever if we want to continue to grow our market share.”

Greenwood offers good advice! Following up on that thought, National Hog Farmer blogger and columnist Wanda Patsche offers producers the right tools to implement that advice in her story, “Using Social Media to Connect with Consumers.” Patsche also emphasizes the importance of reaching out to consumers through social media. She offers readers helpful tips — and a look inside her social media “toolbox.”

When it comes to maintaining markets, I think our cover photo says it all. When you enter the grocery store, there are a lot of choices in that meat case. It’s time to ponder what steps our industry needs to take to make sure our product maintains a prominent place in the meat case, and then maintains that same significant spot in our consumers’ grocery carts.

Remember, you can refer to past Blueprint articles by downloading the free Blueprint app for Android or Apple smartphones and tablets at the Apple Store or on the Android marketplace.