Like burger brands facing rising beef prices, pork-centric concepts are navigating a price hike and anticipated shortage. According to the Chicago Board of Trade, the cost of pork is up 45 percent since the beginning of the year. But one pork brand, Georgia-based Shane’s Rib Shack, isn’t letting the dismal forecast for its staple item dampen its kickoff to the summer barbecue season.
Founded in 2001, Shane’s Rib Shack serves up full racks of ribs and iconic pulled pork sandwiches along with chicken wings and tenders and a selection of salads. And come every May, the brand celebrates National Barbecue Month with a Rib Giveaway across its 50-plus locations along the South and East Coast. This year will be no different despite rising pork costs, says founder Shane Thompson.
“Even when there’s a dip in the markets or a shortage or anything, it’s important to stay true to your brand,” he says. “Pork is who we are; it’s our heart and soul.”
Thompson says the giveaway was originally intended to reward loyal customers, but it’s been a big draw for new customers, too.
“The first year, it was so overwhelming that so many stores had lines wrapping around or folks camping out,” he says. “It became this huge thing that spread to people who hadn’t tried us before.”
To send a reaffirming message to its customers and support the pork industry, Shane’s plans to give away 7,000 half racks of barbecue ribs on May 17, Thompson says. He says the giveaway, coupled with supporting the brand’s franchisees through price hikes, will reinstall confidence in both consumers and operators.
“Being a franchise company, the initial reaction is for people to immediately raise the prices, and we’ve seen that a lot with commodities in the protein markets,” he says.
Shane’s Rib Shack was able to lock in lower price contracts last year to help its franchisees as well. With chicken items on the menu, the brand is also able to run promotions to push that protein and offset costs.
“About 65 percent of what we do is pork related—short ribs and pulled pork,” he says. “We also do fresh chicken tenders and salads. We have the ability to push our consumers more towards chicken in this time when pork is struggling.”
However, Thompson says, the brand also wants to continue pushing pork into its renaissance.
“Ten years ago, pork was looked at as not a good source of protein for a healthy menu, but it’s really the opposite of that. A lot of people have changed their viewpoint, and because of the beef shortage, more people have switched to pork,” Thompson says. “I like being behind the pork industry because it changes the connotation that pork isn’t a healthy protein—it’s just as good as white-meat chicken.”
By Tamara Omazic