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Connecting with Consumers about Pork

Kathleen Kirkham

The pork industry is facing several serious issues with consumers, including animal care, antibiotics, and housing.  Smithfield Farms, one of the nation’s largest pork producing operations, has been using social media to connect with consumers on food issues. Kathleen Kirkham, social media manager for Smithfield, says making it a conversation has been effective, “One thing that works for us is making it a dialogue or two way conversation. This means we will ask questions like, ‘What do you thing about this or that?'” She told HAT this lets consumers express their opinions and then Smithfield can react to those opinions.  She said this approach is much more effective than just stating your position or sending out a press release.



As for what consumers are worried about when it comes to pork, Kirkham says actual consumer concerns may be different than what you read in the media, “We get a lot of questions about how we treat our employees and how we treat our animals.” She added food safety does not get a lot of discussion because people just sort of assume the product is safe.  She said one area that has been getting a lot of attention of nutrition, “What is in our products.”  She said the all natural or local food movements have sparked a lot of interest in what is in food products.


As for sow housing, she said there is not as much consumer concern as actions by retailers and fast food chains would have you believe, “I think that consumers are beginning to become more aware of the issue; and, once they become aware of the issue, it concerns them.”  Recent research by the Center for Food Integrity indicates that sow housing is not a top of mind issue with the majority of meat shoppers.


Kirkham adds that admitting you are sometimes wrong and showing consumers you are working to improve your product scores big points. She said consumers do not expect companies to be perfect, but they do expect them to be honest and transparent.


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