Meaty: Whole Foods, Smithfield Talk Healthier Hogs
Looks like meat marketing is stepping center stage.
Whole Foods Markets, in celebration of Animal Welfare Week, is launching a program that will help consumers connect the flavor of meat products with the way they are raised. And Smithfield, the world’s leading producer of pork, is reportedly moving to eliminate ractopamine, a controversial chemical from up to 50% of its hogs.
Marketing conversations about meat are traditionally complicated: Because of the higher cost of organic or even less-chemically raised stock, the majority of Americans eat mostly commercially raised meat, even if they don’t feel good about it. But that’s changing. According to research fielded this year by the Organic Trade Association, 81% of households now say they buy organic foods at least sometimes, and do so in an average of 10 categories. And 41% of those families are classified as “new organic buyers.”
Among all organic buyers, 88% have purchased an organic meat product in the last six months, the trade group says. (About 5% of Americans are vegetarian, according to recent Gallup polling, and about 2% vegan.)
Whole Foods says it is hosting Best Butcher contests at stores, highlighting the practices of local producers as well as the skills of its butchers. And it is also upping the communication level about its connection to the Global Animal Partnership, launched back in 2008. That group uses a 5-step animal rating system to explain to consumers how the animals they are buying lived, ate and were processed. (Among the highlights: A Georgia farm that supplies the retailer with pork makes sure pigs are allowed to wallow in the mud on hot days; a California chicken supplier uses mobile chicken houses so foraging pastures are always fresh.)
Other consumer concerns center more on the health dangers posed to humans, rather than animal welfare. Reuters reports that Smithfield Foods, the world's leading pork producer, plans to raise 50% of its hogs without the additive ractopamine, which promotes lean muscle. That chemical is banned by Russia, China and many other countries, because of potential adverse health effects on humans. Now, about 10% of Smithfield’s hogs are ractopamine-free; the change is expected to be in effect by June 1.