Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pigs, People & Choices

It is fascinating to observe people and the purchasing choices they make. In a lot of ways, people and pigs act the same way.

Here's a report of a human making a ham purchasing decision:
While perusing the fish counter I saw Spanish mackerel. I recalled having a delicious mackerel with ham at The French Laundry. This worked out perfectly as I'd been dying to find a reason to use Mangalitsa ham since reading this article in the New York Times. Luckily for me Murray's Cheese's newly opened meat counter carried it. I nearly balked when I saw that it was nearly twice as expensive as the already expensive Surryano ham. "Is it really twice as good?", I inquired. The wonderfully pleasant counter woman allowed me a taste and, y'know what? It was twice as good. It was creamy without feeling overly fatty, with an incredibly concentrated pork flavor. As I only needed four slices I reasoned it couldn't be that expensive, an easy rationalization for a splurge.
Being quantitatively minded, I think in terms of exchange rates. E.g. how many pounds of Surryano ham would you have to give me for a pound of Mangalitsa ham?

When you've got quality-sensitive people, the exchange rate is very high - because they really don't want the less-tasty alternative. It would be a bit like asking someone who likes Peet's or Starbuck's coffee, how many pounds of Folgers instant do I have to give you for a pound of your favorite coffee?

I've had similar discussions with people, fighting over jowl bacon; they want what they want, and don't want substitutes.

For people who really like Mangalitsa, but are open to other stuff, I would guess the exchange rate is around 5 or 10. That is, you'd have to give them 5 or 10 pounds of the stuff they don't want for the one pound of Mangalitsa product.

In reality, at the high end, there are customers like Westchester Foodie who probably will only buy what they want, and won't buy the alternative, no matter how cheap it is. E.g. a guy who wants a Ferrari isn't going to buy a Ford or even a Jaguar - he's going to buy the Ferrari. Until he can't get a Ferrari at any price. Suddenly the Jaguar looks OK, or maybe a Mercedes convertible. This emotional response of people to changing choices is fascinating to observe.

Pigs and humans are similar. If you read here, you'll see that like humans, pigs are fussy:

Pigs are funny creatures, and very particular. They'll sort through the bread products and eat anything sweet first. Cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, anything with frosting. then, after they've eaten dessert, they'll go through and eat any loaf that has molasses in it. They'll eat all the dark bread first. Then the white bread. After they've got through the whole thing a few times, and only then, they'll eat the sourdough.
That's why this sourdough loaf is out of the bag, but not eaten. The pig had to make sure that it was sourdough before it dropped it in search of something tastier.
You can learn a lot about the market for Mangalitsa here.

Basically, the customers we can get are the ones who eat the best and are on the lookout for something better.

If there's a chef who regularly buys whole meat-type pigs, whether from big farms or small farms, we probably can't convince him to buy Mangalitsa. He's happy with cheap meat-type pigs; he isn't looking for the best stuff available. If he was so quality sensitive, he'd eschew meat-type pork and instead serve things like lamb and A5 Wagyu beef - the fatty & tasty stuff. You don't think people like that exist? They do - e.g. the French Laundry, my first Mangalitsa customer.

Back to the ham customer: Westchester Foodie is a regular Surryano ham customer. A Surryano ham customer is a lot more quality-sensitive than the average customer. Some of the Surryano ham customers, but by no means all, will be receptive to paying more to get Mangalitsa ham.

I should mention - I've sold Sam Edwards, the maker of the Surryano ham, a few hams. Sometime in 2011 or 2012 he ought to sell them to the public.

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