The customer is always right.
While that mantra — seen as synonymous with service — can seem like a good thing, it has begun to take on a new meaning for pork producers as well as other livestock and poultry producers. A perceived customer emphasis on social consciousness and corporate responsibility is driving business decisions in the foodservice and supermarket sectors. New demands are coming down on producers with dizzying variety and speed, and each new announcement precipitates the next. March 2016 saw an unprecedented number of announcements as momentum appears to be building.
Recently, United Egg Producers president Chad Gregory warned, “If a major grocery store chain makes an announcement, that will potentially cause a major ripple effect on that side of it.” Then the cage-free announcement trend crossed over solidly into the grocery category with announcements from Ahold, Albertsons Companies and The Kroger Co. A Chicago Tribune article identified the breadth of the ripple effect: “When it comes to poultry industry trends, this much is clear: The cage-free egg came before the antibiotic-free chicken.”
As part of its goal to eliminate use of antibiotics that are important for human medicine in pork, chicken, turkey and beef, Subway announced a new sandwich Feb. 26 featuring chicken raised without antibiotics. Angela Bowman, associate editor of PorkNetwork, pointed out, “It’s not about antibiotic resistance. It’s not about animal health. It’s not even about human health. It’s all about that ultimate bottom line.”
A story featured on public radio program Marketplace examined farmer reactions to this growing trend in a segment titled “Farmers feel thrown under the bus as Big Food changes.” In it, American Farm Bureau Federation senior economist Bob Young explained the situation: “We’re going to change how we ask you to farm … Can you do it in the real world and can you pay for it? We don’t really care — we’re just going to demand that you do it.”
Despite these changing dynamics, opportunity remains for producers, veterinarians and other industry members who can adapt to change. Glynn Tonsor, Associate professor, Kansas State University, points out in a 2016 post that “how we produce pork will not always be based on what works best scientifically … Change in any industry can be tough. But to remain competitive and increase consumer trust in pork products, change is unavoidable. Will you be ready to meet it?”