Eating organic is the hottest food trend right now. But for consumers who are looking to buy organic pork, they may have a hard time finding it in stores.
Currently, there aren’t enough organic pork suppliers to meet consumer demand for antibiotic-free, growth-hormone-free, humanely raised pork.
The shortage was exemplified by Chipotle’s “carnitas” shortage in January, when the restaurant chain ran out of pork shoulder meat because the company found that one of its suppliers violated its animal welfare policy.
The company said it had no choice but to stop selling pork in its stores, as it could not find other suppliers who fit its standards.
But it’s not just Chipotle. Many supermarkets are looking for organic pork to sell in their stores, but cannot find enough pork producers to provide it, according to Brian Diffenderfer, director of meat and seafood for Daymon Worldwide, a marketing and consulting firm for retail companies. It specializes in helping companies create their own line of products under a private label (think Whole Foods Market’s 365 brand).
Of the 21,687 hog and pig farms in the country, only 74 of them raise some, or all of their pork organically, according to the latest USDA agricultural census. That means less than 1 percent.
Too Costly to Raise
Why aren’t there more farms raising organic pork? Diffenderfer explained that for one, raising organic pigs is expensive.
In order for meat products to be certified as organic by the USDA’s (Department of Agriculture), animals must be fed with 100 percent organic food, must not be given antibiotics or hormones to promote their growth, and must be raised in clean, well-maintained shelters with access to the outdoors.
Agricultural studies conducted by Iowa State University have shown that organic pork is more costly to produce because of the higher price of buying organic feed. Feeding pigs an organic diet also means the animals have to eat more to gain weight and become ready for human consumption.
But on top of that, most American consumers prefer eating limited cuts of the pork, usually the tenderloin or chop, according to Diffenderfer.
“Producers have a hard time sourcing buyers for other parts of pork that people don’t usually buy,” said Diffenderfer. “So it’s a loss overall [to produce organic pork].”
With other meats, like organic beef, other cuts that people don’t buy can be ground and sold as ground beef. Ground pork, on the other hand, is not so popular with American tastes.
Pig farms thus find it difficult to make their operations profitable when only a portion of the animal can be sold as organic.
For grocers who want to start their own line of organic products “we usually don’t recommend them to go for organic pork because it’s so hard to find,” said Diffenderfer.
Diffenderfer foresees that in a couple of years, consumer demand could one day make producing organic pork profitable.
For now, the challenge may be how to make other pork cuts appear on American dinner tables.