By Chris Hurt
Fans of winning sports teams often chant, “We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!” It’s not often you hear chant of “We’re No. 3! We’re No. 3! We’re No. 3!” However, No. 3 is where pork ranks in the most-consumed meats in the U.S. — and that’s just fine with the pork industry.
In years past, the various meat industries were caught up with gaining market share. Hog producers wanted to get more of the total meat consumption in the country. So did the chicken industry, and so did the beef industry. At times, this led to total meat supplies being so high that none of the species could make a profit.
As these industries have matured, there’s not much discussion of trying to take market share away from somebody else. Rather, each industry is interested in the bottom line, and that’s being able to produce at a profitable level. To remain profitable and to grow, each industry has focused on how to make its meat products more valuable to its consumers.
The number of U.S. consumers continues to grow at our population growth rate, which is somewhat under 1% a year. The bigger growth, however, has been in selling our meat products to new consumers in foreign countries.
For pork, being No. 3 isn’t so bad if producers can produce pork profitably. You can imagine it would be no fun to be able to say, “We’re No. 1” if we lost a ton of money being No. 1.
Since 2000, chicken has seen an increase in consumption per person in the U.S., from 77 pounds per year to an estimated 92 pounds per year in 2018. The trend in beef consumption per person has gone the other direction, dropping from 69 pounds per year in 2000 to 59 pounds per year expected for 2018.
The pork industry has had the stable hand, with consumption per person hovering around 50 pounds per year. Stable and No. 3 have advantages. Beef was No. 1 for per capita consumption several decades ago. Then chicken rose, and beef declined. This trend has continued since 2000, as shown in the chart.
When beef was No. 1, pork was viewed as a variety meat since families could not eat beef all the time. Today, pork is also viewed as a variety meat since families can’t eat chicken all the time. Pork has stable consumption with little variation over the years.
For pork producers who insist on raising just one finger and chanting “Pork is No. 1,” they’re welcome to do that for the entire world industry. China’s huge preference for pork makes pork the No. 1 global meat industry.
For the rest of us thinking more about the domestic market, we can proudly raise three fingers and say, “Pork is No. 3, and profitable.”
Hurt is a Purdue University Extension agricultural economist. He writes from West Lafayette, Ind.