Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Americans are eating more pork, and the Midwest is trying to meet the demand

(Image from The Washington Post)
Americans are eating more pork now than they have in years, and new farms are starting up to meet the demand for everything from pork bellies to pig ears.

In Iowa alone, meatpackers recently began construction on new slaughterhouses worth well over $500 million, Caitlin Dewey reports for The Washington Post. By the end of 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that pork production will equal — sometimes even exceed — that of beef, though neither red meat yet rivals chicken.

"Some of that demand will come from growing foreign markets. But Americans have developed a new taste for pork, particularly bacon, as well. According to the market research firm Euromonitor, sales of pork are up 20 percent in the United States since 2011," Dewey reports.

A multitude of factors seems to lie behind pork’s growing popularity. Last winter, demand for bacon grew so high that the U.S. pork-belly supply hit a 50-year low — sparking fears of a bacon shortage. "The growing influence of Asian cuisines, particularly Korean and Vietnamese, have also made some cuts of pork newly popular. In its 2016 food trends report, Google named char siu, bulgogi and banh mi — which frequently include pork — among the year’s hottest foods. And Americans are increasingly turning to fast-food restaurants for breakfast, where bacon and pork sausage are both popular," Dewey explains.

Demographics also play a major role. Pork is a popular meat in Latino cooking, and recent growth in sales reflects the growing Latino population and cultural influence. Pork has also benefited from a rebound in Americans' food spending, particularly at restaurants. "According to the USDA, Americans have spent more money at restaurants in each year since 2010. A 2013 study by researchers at Purdue University found that spending on meat, in particular, spiked after the recession, especially for high-quality cuts of chicken, pork and beef," Dewey writes.

Foreign demand for pork is also strong in markets such as Mexico, China and Japan, where hog farms and processors are becoming ever more productive. This means many companies back in the States are expanding. "In Sioux City . . . Seaboard Triumph Foods is building a huge, $300 million plant that will span almost a million square feet and process upward of 20,000 hogs a day. Prestage Foods, a large producer of pork and turkey, recently broke ground on a new pork plant in Eagle Grove, Iowa, that will process 10,000 hogs each day," Dewey explains.

The USDA predicts than when these facilities open, an additional 900 million pounds of pork will hit the U.S. market, which may force prices down a bit and further stimulate demand. "In either case, by the end of 2018 U.S. farmers are expected to produce as much pork as beef — which is, for the pork industry, an unprecedented accomplishment," Dewey notes.

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