KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tyson Fresh Meats, a division of Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, sells every cut of fresh pork in the meat case, said Ozlem Worpel, senior brand manager.

“We have a full line of fresh pork products, both branded and private label,” Worpel said. “Whether you’re looking for ribs, chops, flanks, tenderloins, bellies or shoulders, we have retailers covered with pre-cut packages of meat ready for shoppers to pick up and go.”

In the last few years, Tyson Fresh Meats has seen a trend toward more premium-tier and what Worpel calls “never ever” (think clean label) products.

In premium, she said, customers are looking for a high-quality eating experience and considering attributes like color and marbling when purchasing fresh pork.

Packaging plays a big role in perception of premium, said David Eaheart, senior director of communications and brand marketing for Merriam, Kansas-based Seaboard Foods. The more premium the package appears, even for fresh meats, the more it’s likely to appeal and influence the purchase decision.

“Colors, film thickness and overall presentation are important to consumers when shopping the meat case,” he says. “Response to the new Prairie Fresh packaging that launched in 2018 has been positive. Consumer research confirms the new Prairie Fresh labeling and color schemes can influence purchase decisions.

Consumers also want to see the product, Eaheart added. While the labeling and the premium look of it is important, it’s just as critical for the consumer to see meat for their own critical review of quality.

Clean label options abound

In the “never ever” realm, meanwhile, Tyson Fresh Meats is meeting soaring demand with its Open Prairie Natural Meats pork products, which are minimally processed and have no artificial ingredients, no antibiotics and no added hormones.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand of ‘never ever’ products from retailers as consumers are requesting more of these attribute products from them,” Worpel said. “We find that consumers are more engaged and interested in learning where their food comes from and have a desire to understand the meat products they’re consuming and serving to their families.”

Convenience also continues to be a key driver for pork purchases in retail because of the lack of time or skill to create unique meal experiences for some consumers, Eaheart said.

At the same time, however, those same consumers don’t want to skimp on flavor and meal variety, he added.

“We’ve seen interest increase for the Prairie Fresh Signature Cook-In Bag products because it offers consumers a simple and easy meal solution,” Eaheart said, referring to a Seaboard pork product that offers convenience without sacrificing flavor. “Prepping is super simple. Preheat the oven, place the bag on an oven-safe baking pan, cut a vent hole and cook. Plus, it’s offered in a variety of seasonings for interesting flavor profiles and meal variety.”

Because it’s so easy to prepare, Eaheart said, the consumer can focus on completing side dishes and other dinner details while it’s cooking. “We can’t forget about a certain segment of consumers who are drawn to not having to touch the raw meat with a cook-in bag pork product.”

When it comes to merchandising pork in supermarkets, self-serve has the clear advantage over full-service, Worpel said.

“Customers prefer to look at the products, pick up meat in the packaging to determine which piece they want, and have the convenience of not working with a person or waiting for a piece from behind a counter,” she said.

One exception, she points out, is smaller, specialty meat retailers that have the majority of their fresh meat products, if not all, behind a case.

For Tyson, great pork starts with healthy animals, Worpel said. “Animal welfare is a key priority for us. We’re committed to becoming the leader in animal experience, research and innovation by having the most transparent animal welfare practices in food.”

As part of that commitment, Tyson works closely with independent, family-operated hog farms who share in these values. Through its FarmCheck program, Tyson uses third-party auditors to check for such things as animal access to food and water, as well as proper human-animal interaction and worker training at its supplier partners.

Open Prairie Natural Meats products, meanwhile, come with the “Openness Promise,” which guarantees that Tyson is continually working to enhance communications and transparency with all of its partners, from its independent farmers and ranchers to its customers, Worpel said.

Trending for summer, trending year-round

With summer in full swing, Tyson Fresh Meats is focused on grilling season, in which pork plays a starring role. “The biggest trend we see during grilling season is going back to traditional, barbecue season cuts: ribs, pulled pork and chops,” Worpel said. “These are typically most popular in the summer, and this year is no different.”

Another summer favorite, Eaheart said, is pork ribs, and in the pork section of the retail meat case, ribs continue to gain sales. “Consumers look to this stand-by to experiment on the backyard grill or smoker for a weekend get-together party and holidays. It’s not a coincidence that, as smoker and grills sales increase, so does the growth of pork ribs.”

A trend that’s big regardless of season, Worpel said, is the explosion of flavor options — particularly of the Hispanic and Asian variety.

“We’re offering more pre-seasoned and marinated products that appeal to these additional flavor profiles and provide convenience,” she said. “Our intent is to expose consumers to a larger flavor palate with the ease of the meat and flavor being all-in-one, with products like our seasoned and marinated items, such as ribs.”

Tyson also offers pork recipes on its various brand websites and its social media platforms. Recipes, she said, encourage consumers to try new flavors and new cuts of meat and provide education on how to best cook pork products.

Also trending upward in the pork category are boneless loin filets and tenderloins, Eaheart said. The smaller sizes are easier to prepare and allow the consumer to create their own spin with unique bold, spicy flavors. Also, the smaller packages are a better fit for today’s similarly smaller households.

Seaboard is also seeing growth in sales of net-weight tenderloin and filet products. For many retailers, Eaheart said, fixed-weight items are easier to promote, price and merchandise, and they look better on the shelf because of the uniform sizes.

Another trend driving category sales, Eaheart said, is the use of pork as an ingredient rather than a center-of-the-plate item.

“Meat can add flavor, texture and be used in a variety of ways in tacos, casseroles, pizzas and sandwiches,” he said. “Some of this is also tied to consumers seeking more variety at the dinner table and the influence of more ethnic dishes, where meat is important but used as an ingredient to the main dish.”

For example, the pork shoulder is increasingly being used for pulled pork, and not just the barbecued version of it. Pulled pork is also used often in many ethnic dishes, Eaheart said.