David Newman is president of the National Pork Board. He owns and operates a farrow-to-finish Berkshire farm in Myrtle, Missouri, that markets pork directly to consumers throughout the U.S.
He is also an associate professor of animal sciences at Arkansas State University, where he teaches and conducts research with an emphasis in meat science.
He most recently served as board vice president, on the 2020 Strategic Planning Task Force, and on the Swine Health committee.
IFT: This has been a rough year for all of agriculture. As you talk to producers, how do they seem to be handling 2020, both financially and mentally? How optimistic are you about the future of the pork industry?
NEWMAN: Without a doubt, 2020 has been one of the most dramatic years in history. I don’t need to recap the chaos that will never be forgotten. Like others, the pork industry has suffered greatly. But one thing I will say about my fellow pork producers is we pull together in every disaster, helping our neighbors and moving forward.
This year, I think more than ever before, we have seen that in our own communities and throughout the industry. There will be scars, but there also have been moments of success that motivate us to get up each day and head to the barn to care for our pigs. This has included delivering hot pork meals after Hurricane Laura, seeing ground pork sales jump to record levels as consumers tried new ways to cook with their families, and joining producers together to find solutions during the intensity of COVID-19 related challenges.
IFT: The recent discovery of ASF in Germany has had a ripple effect on the global industry. How is the U.S. doing in terms of prevention and preparedness for ASF or other foreign animal disease?
NEWMAN: Foreign animal disease preparedness is not new to the Pork Checkoff. We have been working to research, identify, prepare and plan for FAD concerns for many years. The U.S. pork industry has extensive resources in place — first to prevent the entry of ASF and second to respond should it be confirmed in the U.S.
The National Pork Board works closely with the National Pork Producers Council, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the Swine Health Information Center, the North American Meat Institute and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to ensure a coordinated planning and response plan.
Something new in the foreign animal disease arena is AgView. It’s a new producer-focused technology solution that will provide near real-time disease status to help facilitate disease trace-back and pig movement among its users. With enough voluntary participants, it will help the pork industry rapidly contain or regionalize a foreign animal disease outbreak to restore safe pork exports and to get business back to as close to normal as possible more quickly. The checkoff-funded tool will be released to producers at no cost in November 2020.
IFT: The pork board recently unveiled its Real Pork master brand program. Can you talk about the planning behind this and how has it been received by pork producers and industry partners?
NEWMAN: The National Pork Board’s new master brand, Real Pork, celebrates everything that is real about pork: real stories, real farmers, real farms and the real way people feel when they enjoy the authentic flavors of pork. Real Pork will be part of everything the organization does, transitioning a challenging and unexpected market situation into sustainable, long-term growth. This will really help us connect with consumers as we work to elevate how pork and pork producers are viewed.
When we first started talking about Real Pork and what it would mean to the industry, we wanted to take a step back and ensure we had the necessary research to reach our goals. With that in hand, we moved efforts forward to position pork and the pork industry as authentically as possible to consumers who are looking for answers about sustainability, nutrition and cooking. Real Pork puts an emphasis on an emotional connection to pork and its ability to unite people through food.
Real Pork is not an advertising campaign such as Be Inspired or The Other White Meat. Real Pork is not a campaign, a tagline or a short-term program. The Real Pork brand is more than the livestock or the end-product; it is the story of pork from the farm to the table and everything in between. Real Pork encompasses our identity as an industry — who we are, our values and beliefs.
IFT: Items such as ground pork have become more popular during the pandemic. What sort of work is the Pork Board doing to educate consumers about ground pork and other products that have grown in popularity?
NEWMAN: What we know is that ground pork sales have surged since March 1, 2020, and ground pork has benefited from consumers cooking at home because it has been a trial period for many consumers. I think it is interesting that 45% of ground pork shoppers were not purchasing ground pork in the prior 12 months. Among new ground pork shoppers, 13% made at least two ground pork purchases between March and June. And, since March, the ground pork segment has brought in the highest percentage of new shoppers to the ground segment compared with other ground meats.
But what is important is what the Pork Checkoff is doing with that information. With ground pork’s recent success as a destination item, we know there is strong consumer demand and have been talking with major packers and retailers to help extend the success. We are reinforcing that ground pork has a place as an everyday item in the ground meats set, and we are sharing the purchasing drivers of flavor and taste to use in recipes. We want ground pork to sustain and maintain the new consumers and households we have gained.
IFT: What has the pork industry learned over the last few months that may prove beneficial in the long run?
NEWMAN: We are in the middle of the annual planning process for the National Pork Board. The process provides opportunity for industry feedback on risks, opportunities and priorities year-round so your checkoff can be more responsive to your farm operation needs in an ever-changing business environment. The results will help industry leaders align on priorities, objectives and key performance indicators for the following year.