Mr. Pope is the chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods Inc., the world's largest pork processor and hog producer by volume. He doesn't mince words when it comes to rapidly rising food prices. The 56-year-old accountant by training has been in the business for more than three decades, and he warns that the higher costs may be here to stay.
Courtesy of? "I'm not going to say, 'a political policy,'" he tells me. (His senior vice president, a lawyer by training, sits close by, ready to "kick his leg" if his garrulous boss speaks too plainly.) But politics indeed plays a large role, as Congress subsidizes favorite industries and the Federal Reserve pursues an expansive monetary policy.
Ours is a timely chat, given the burst of food inflation the world is living through. Mr. Pope is running a multibillion-dollar business in the midst of economic turmoil, and he has strong views about why prices are rising and what can be done about it.
The Southerner is an old hand when it comes to food. He graduated from William and Mary in 1975, spent a few years at an accountancy, then joined Smithfield and worked his way up the ranks. He's something of an evangelist about his trade: He boasts that Smithfield employs some 50,000 people, many of whom are high-school graduates and immigrants others would consider "hard to hire." It's a "good business" that "gives people a good start."
It's also a business under enormous strain. Some "60 to 70% of the cost of raising a hog is tied up in the grains," Mr. Pope explains. "The major ingredient is corn, and the secondary ingredient is soybean meal." Over the last several years, "the cost of corn has gone from a base of $2.40 a bushel to today at $7.40 a bushel, nearly triple what it was just a few years ago." Which means every product that uses corn has risen, too—including everything from "cereal to soft drinks" and more.