The conversation around food is changing, and the National Pork Board is determined to be a part of that conversation. On Monday, National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council board members gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, at the National Pork Board office to view the newly created innovation kitchen – a place to celebrate pork and strategize new ways to elevate pork’s presence in the global marketplace.
The state-of-the-art kitchen facility and remodeled conference center will serve as a hub of innovative thinking about pork. Since the office was built in the 1970s, pork producers have taken great pride in improving the facility over the years. And this innovation kitchen reflects their commitment to staying on top of the food conversation.
Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board, says the Pork Checkoff has two main objectives – to support pork production and to celebrate pork as a food. 
“When you look at the facility that the pork producers built here in Des Moines, we have never had anything that would assist us and our chefs in our mission of celebrating pork as a food on campus. We’ve been dependent over the past 30 years on external contractors, vendors and different culinary organizations to do our work around pork as a food,” Even says. 
But 18 months ago, the National Pork Board directors decided it was time to show just how devoted the pork industry is to pork as a food and the innovation that needs to happen in the industry.
“It’s really designed to say we’re here to stay,” Even says. “We’re going to continue our work supporting pork production. And we’re going to double down on getting serious in positioning and promoting pork as a food.” 
It’s important to talk about pork as a food, says Jarrod Sutton, vice president of domestic marketing at the National Pork Board. 
“Investing in this state-of-the-art kitchen gives us the ability to not only showcase the product that we promote, but also allow us to invite people in to experience it,” Sutton says. “We have the capabilities now to capture the work that’s happening in the kitchen, the magic that’s happening with our chefs on staff, and celebrate that through digital and social media.”
Innovation to drive innovation
Not only will the new facility be a hub for innovating new ways to position pork in the marketplace, but it will also allow the National Pork Board to bring more cooking, photography and videography in-house so they can create their own quick how-it’s-made videos as the Pork Checkoff shifts to a digital first mindset. 
“Having the capabilities to film and upload immediately to digital and social media in a time where content is needed 24/7 is critical,” Sutton says. 
They plan to bring in half carcasses and fabricate the pig, showing people where the different cuts come from, and potentially how to do some things differently, he adds.
“Our job is to be out in front of the industry,” Sutton says. “We now have the ability to be able to jump from the kitchen into the boardroom right here in our office. If we need to sit down and think out some strategic plans, we can do that and then get back in the kitchen to cut up some more pork and see how a new product could play.”
Sutton believes the new kitchen will allow them to hammer out solid business plans to take to their downstream channel partners – the food service, restaurant companies and retail companies.
“At the end of the day, with all the challenges that we’re faced with, smart wins,” Sutton says. “We’re critical thinkers at the National Pork Board. And with our chefs on staff that have the ability to think critically, we can now put ideas and plans in front of key account customers with confidence because we’ve vetted them.”
The time is right
“If you read the news, there are plenty of things to be concerned about,” Sutton says. “And yet there are also things to celebrate. Pork is the number one consumed protein around the world.”
From a Pork Checkoff standpoint, Sutton says it’s important that producers are continuously reminded of export opportunities and the potential to increase pork consumption in developing economies. As those economies improve, the first thing people do is improve the way they eat. And often times, that starts with protein. 
“Look at Latin America and Asia – consumers in those countries really enjoy eating pork. It’s deeply tied to their culture and ethnicity. And as the demographics in the Unites States change, and with the influence of other cultures, an increased interest in pork is something that we all get to enjoy,” Sutton says. “There’s a great opportunity for pork to fill those needs.”
He believes investing in loyal customers and markets, and partnering with experts is critical to selling more pork. 
“Ultimately, that’s how we continue to grow our businesses, putting our chips on those loyal customers and those loyal markets and partnering with experts who know how to turn our product into amazing dishes that are culturally relevant, and people can enjoy,” Sutton says.
Investing in opportunity
The $750,000 investment by pork producers was designed with long-range durability in mind, Even says. The board didn’t want anything trendy, but rather something simple, straightforward and built to stand the test of time.
“There’s a tremendous amount of energy behind this addition to the National Pork Board office,” Even says. “This is the pork producers’ building. The investments they have made in this property over the years is something they are proud of. When you’re bringing in national dignitaries, foreign visitors, chefs and more, they wanted to make sure they had a facility they could reflect that pride.”
The National Pork Board has two full-time, world-renowned chefs – marketing managers – on staff. They work closely with food service and retail companies to position pork accordingly to keep strengthening the demand for pork. They also have two channel marketing managers with expertise ranging from retail and food service to the convenience store set, Even adds. 
“We’re truly crashing into the ‘now’ with this state-of-the-art facility and the technology that enables us to celebrate pork as a food,” Sutton says. “This is the nucleus of the pork industry right here. We’re excited to be able to celebrate it in the way that we should.”
Original article June 5, Farm Journal’s Pork
The Innovation Kitchen is Open at the National Pork Board