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Move over bacon, the pork chop is back

The National Pork Board focuses on improving quality and juiciness to woo the next-generation consumer.

Elizabeth Hodges, Staff Writer

July 12, 2023

4 Min Read
pork chops
LICKING YOUR CHOPS: Bacon has gained in popularity, leaving pork chops in the dust. By teaching consumers new and innovative ways to prepare a pork chop, the National Pork Board is hoping to add value to this middle meat. Elizabeth Hodges

Living high on the hog. Maybe the saying does not mean what it used to. Pork loins, the typically high-value primal cut, have been replaced by the belly. A shift in consumer diets may be to blame.

With every generation, there are different diets. The Generation Z folks just are not the meat-and-potatoes generation, but they love bacon. Still, the shift in pork products may reflect the net affordability to the average consumer.

“Wages for the typical U.S. resident aren’t keeping up with the cost of living,” says Glynn Tonsor, a professor in the department of ag economics at Kansas State University. “So, their buying power has eroded over the last 18 months.”

However, it could be that consumers simply don’t like the taste or texture of pork. Or perhaps the quality is just not there in the retail case.

With the changing pork landscape, quality and consistency are becoming a priority. The National Pork Board (NPB) is conducting consumer research to combat these tough days for the pork chop.

Quality is key

As the industry shifts from promoting “the other white meat” to conveying a higher-quality picture of pork to consumers, there is an opportunity to grow the market.

The 2023 World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, hosted a panel discussion around its consumer benchmarking study. This comprehensive study is conducted every three years in 16 market areas, across 27 retailers.

“Quality means a lot of different things. To international consumers, that often means fresh and food safe,” says David Newman, newly elected senior vice president for market growth at NPB. “What matters to us when selecting pork is the palatability of the meat. Things associated with juiciness, tenderness and flavor.”

According to the NPB Pork Checkoff benchmark study, 96% of fresh pork at the retail case is not enhanced, which is when non-meat ingredients are added to fresh pork. But NPB and pork producers do not want to add anything to their product. They want juiciness, tenderness and flavor to come from the meat itself.

When assessing how much of the pork selection is pre-cut and packaged or case-ready, it is at 40%. That is a 7% increase from 2018. But NPB wants that number to go higher and enhanced pork products to move lower. By 2025, it expects the case-ready numbers to grow by 15%.

Creating a pork following

Looking at other proteins, it is easy to see marketing and branded programs that tell consumers their protein is a versatile product. For instance, branded programs such as Certified Angus Beef in the beef industry give the consumer an idea on what to expect with that product.

However, the same cannot be said about fresh pork.

The pork industry might be stamping those branded programs on labels soon. With different programs like Duroc, premium, grass-fed and others, it will give the consumer a better idea of what they are purchasing.

“There is a lot of times that we only use price and trade to get people to purchase [pork],” says Kiersten Hafer, vice president of strategy and insights at NPB. “So, we must move beyond the price and promotion to doing other things that keep it front and center of consumer’s minds.”

To that end, NPB provides new recipes that teach consumers how to prepare a pork dish. This could include the utilization of new kitchen gadgets such as the air fryer or even a simple marinade recipe for pork chops.

Change needed throughout food chain

These drivers for change all start at the ground with on-farm innovation and investments from pork producers.

When making selections in a breeding program, producers focus on quality metrics that generate genetic improvements. These quality metrics include color, tenderness and marbling. Management strategies for quality can also improve end-product quality through feeding and handling improvements.

Once the live hog reaches market weight, the next step that will influence pork quality is at the processor. The packing industry is making strides to improve pork quality with increasing the resting time before processing and utilizing CO2 stunning. These practices have shown to improve the water-holding capacity, creating a juicier product.

Investments from production to processing improve tenderness, foster a darker pork color and create a consistent marbling percentage. Gone is the need to enhance U.S. pork products. The result is a higher-quality product in the retail case for consumers.

It is going to take the entire industry from the breeder to the retail stores to promote the sale of pork loins. But with the help of NPB, work is being done to add more value to the center-cut loin. If you want to learn more about this benchmarking study, check it out here.

Black pepper pork chops with molasses butter

Makes 4 Servings


•  4 New York pork chops (top loin, 1½-inch thick)

•  ¼ cup butter

•  1 tablespoon molasses

•  ½ teaspoon lemon juice

•  4 tablespoons black pepper (coarsely ground)


In a small bowl, blend butter, molasses and lemon juice with a fork. Cover and refrigerate.

Rub chops on both sides evenly with pepper. Grill chops over a medium-hot fire for 12-16 minutes, turning once, until the thermometer reads 145 degrees F, followed by a three-minute rest time. Top each chop with a tablespoon of molasses butter.

Recipe source: Nebraska Pork Producers Association

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Hodges

Staff Writer, Farm Progress

Growing up on a third-generation purebred Berkshire hog operation, Elizabeth Hodges of Julian, Neb., credits her farm background as showing her what it takes to be involved in the ag industry. She began her journalism career while in high school, reporting on producer progress for the Midwest Messenger newspaper.

While a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she became a Husker Harvest Days intern at Nebraska Farmer in 2022. The next year, she was hired full time as a staff writer for Farm Progress. She plans to graduate in 2024 with a double major in ag and environmental sciences communications, as well as animal science.

Being on the 2022 Meat Judging team at UNL led her to be on the 2023 Livestock Judging team, where she saw all aspects of the livestock industry. She is also in Block and Bridle and has held different leadership positions within the club.

Hodges’ father, Michael, raises hogs, and her mother, Christy, is an ag education teacher and FFA advisor at Johnson County Central. Hodges is the oldest sibling of four.

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