The Pork Niche Market Phenomenon
Iowa State University Animal Industry Report 2004. After the broad industrialization of the U.S. swine/pork industry, there have been numerous niche markets for export and domestic pork developing. With the Midwests tradition of a corn-hog family-based agricultural system, the stage was set for the pork niche market phenomena to take root. There are approximately 35 to 40 pork niche marketing efforts currently active in Iowa. A multistate Pork Niche Market Working Group (PNMWG) was started in 2002 in Iowa to support the development of niche markets for pork, to foster the success of highly differentiated pork value chains that are profitable to all participants that incorporate farmer ownership and control, and contribute to environmental stewardship and rural vitality. Pork niche markets embrace a variety of approaches including direct marketing, internet sales, small locker plants, farmer groups, and organized marketing groups. One of the larger and more successful niche marketers of natural pork is Niman Ranch Pork, Thornton, Iowa. Niman Ranch pork has more than 200 farmer-producers and processes about 2,000 pigs weekly. There are indications that U.S. consumers are interested in the environmental, pig welfare, and pig farm ownership and structure characteristics of the pork they buy. Many consumers may be willing to pay more for pork with positive attributes in these areas. Niche markets are attractive to small- and medium-based farmers who have swine experience and facilities. Noted agricultural economist Glenn Grimes of the University of Missouri stated at the 2003 World Pork Expo, Des Moines, Iowa, that Unless small pork producers have captured a niche market within the pork chain, they will disappear. Niche markets seek product differentiation via quality and social or credence attributes. Quality attributes that are claimed by the niche market include certain breeds or genetics, taste or flavor, high quality, freshness, and tenderness. Social or credence attributes often are claimed and include antibiotic and growth promotant-free, family farm raised, natural, organic, outdoor or bedded rearing, locally raised, humane rearing, known origin, environment-friendly, and no animal by-products in feed.