The American pork market is in a time of change. Americans are still buying pork, but with cost at an all-time high and plenty of other choices on the market, consumers are not as bound to purchase pork products as they were in the past. Further driving up the cost of pork— and possibly leading to consumer fears of food safety— are recent outbreaks of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv.
While industry experts have, as yet, been unable to control the epidemic, alleviating consumer fears that arise from food safety news may be the best thing that the food service industry can do to help bring the pork sales back to an even keel.
Significance of Food Safety Concerns for the Industry
One of the factors most detrimental to pork producers who depend on American demand is a recent spate of poor publicity. The food industry news that makes headlines can scare off consumers and influence them to spend their food dollars on other products. News of outbreaks of the PEDv virus among hogs, and recalls due to safety threats, such as microbial contamination or mislabeling, can also be costly. As a result, pork prices skyrocket.
To Consumers, PEDv Is an Alarmingly Mysterious Killer
Within less than a year, 7 million pigs– more than 1 out of every 10 in the United States– have died from this mysterious killer. PEDv is also present in Canada, and similar outbreaks have been seen in China. Investigators do not know how the virus entered the U.S., although possibly it is linked to feed.
Much yet remains to be learned about PEDv, but it is very clear that the virus has devastating potential for the pork industry. As the virus attacks the wall of the small intestine, preventing pigs from absorbing nutrients, it is nearly always fatal among piglets less than 21 days old that can die from dehydration within days.
Although PEDv is deadly among pigs and has serious repercussions in the American economy, consumers should remember that the virus cannot infect them. The pork industry could try to alleviate fears by reminding the public of this fact.
What You Need to Say
As you well know, despite scares in food safety news, when handled properly by processors and food service teams, pork is perfectly safe. But the trouble comes in how customers understand these facts.
PEDv doesn’t threaten human health, but consumers know that pork recalls are not unprecedented. And as other food safety news has highlighted the dangers associated with inadequate inspections during the pork production process, consumers may find it difficult to distinguish the two news items.
Social media can be one of your best allies when it comes to allaying consumer fears. Facebook, Twitter, or even a blog can be a great channel for engaging directly with the customer.
However, you don’t want to start on the defensive.
Your best option in combating negative news is to begin conversations that focus on the positive aspects of pork—taste, protein, leanness— that can be an incentive for choosing pork or offer fast and delicious recipes that even the busiest working parent can throw together at the end of a long day.
If you must address food safety news—after a recall or other issue— be direct.
If you’re dealing with a PEDv outbreak among your suppliers, explain the science behind the virus and assure customers that PEDv cannot be transmitted to humans.
Americans have plenty of choices when they go grocery shopping or order at restaurants, and the pork industry needs to address consumers’ concerns over food safety news if they want to remain competitive with poultry and beef producers.