One of the items that has always peaked my interest is the discussion of ‘who is our market’. I think everyone agrees that the ultimate market for the pork we produce is the consumer. However, how this consumer’s desires and biases get transferred into a willingness to buy our product gets very fuzzy.
In May, the Food Marketing Institute which is the industry group that represents grocery stores, etc., released its annual survey of where people purchase their groceries. In 2007, Wal-Mart and Kroger claimed fully 33% of all US consumer grocery dollars. Think about this. Two firms now have 1/3 of all the market share for the US food purchases for eat at home meals.
Another way to think about the large market share these 2 firms represent is in the area of animal welfare. We have all witnessed the power of McDonalds to shape the animal welfare debate as it seeks out product suppliers who meet their evolving animal welfare dictums. In the future, I think these types of dictums will also be evident from the retail chains. Wal-Mart has already demonstrated its retail clout in such areas as RFID tracking of inventory, etc. It will only be a matter of time before both Wal-Mart and Kroger will be expecting suppliers of products to meet their consumer demands for issues that go beyond price, food safety and convenience.
In the June 30 issue of Feedstuffs was a short item stating that on September 1, a new law in Switzerland will require dog owners to take lessons on how to properly walk their dog. The fishing industry will be required to have training on how to catch fish in a ‘compassionate manner’. Owners of goldfish, guinea pigs, horses, and other ‘social’ animals could be cited for animal abuse if their animals do not cohabit or have contact with others of their kind.
I’m not suggesting that Wal-Mart or Kroger will be enacting buying policies that reflect the upcoming Swiss regulations. However, the fact that the Swiss have enacted such legislation supports the notion that the public in general has limited life experiences with any animal other than the family pet. And according to the Swiss, even this must be regulated to be certain that the animal is cared for in a manner befitting its ‘natural state’.
The Swiss legislation points out the public pressure that is increasing on retailers such as Wal-Mart and Kroger for animal welfare policies that may or may not be based on science. It highlights that our role as pork producers now includes a new role as educators of consumers.
Minnesota has a population of just over 5 million citizens. I think every one of us has relatives and friends who know little about our production methods, our concern for the health and welfare of the animals under our care and our interest in providing a safe and wholesome product for their use. If we don’t take the time to tell a friend or relative our story, who will? It is up to us to be pro-active with our story, because if we rely on others, the end result may be legislation such as the Swiss experience that will require training on how to ‘humanely’ raise pigs, with the definition of ‘humane’ being open to interpretation.