Even as the economy continues to deliver jolts by way of inflation and market uncertainty, the fresh meat case remains on shoppers’ routes. The 2023 "Power of Meat" report published by FMI - The Food Industry Association and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) showed that retailers are still moving more pounds than they did before the pandemic.
Many of those pounds come from the self-service case. While the "Power of Meat" research affirms that 83% of meat consumers mainly go to stores with a full-service meat counter, 75% of all purchases are made at the self-serve case. Such data underscores the benefits of both areas – a counter that serves premium cuts and butcher expertise and a grab-and-go area for convenience and value.
Within the case-ready category for fresh meats, several recent trends spotlighted at FMI’s and NAMI’s recent Annual Meat Conference (AMC) in Dallas reflect shoppers’ interests and grocers’ opportunities.
Variety Reflects Diversity
Given the increasingly diverse population of the United States, the fresh meat case at American stores is starting to reflect today’s customer base. “We are seeing ready-to-cook meats that are thinly sliced and diced, and some of that is tied to multicultural shoppers,” said Jamie Dik, segment business lead, case ready at Minneapolis-based Cargill, who co-presented an AMC session on case-ready meats. She cited thinly-sliced meat applications like Korean barbecue and tacos.
More Meats, Please
In addition to traditional case-ready products in the poultry and beef categories, suppliers are adding more products to the mix. Tyson Foods, for its part, showcased new products at this year’s AMC event, including all-natural premium pork products under the Chairman’s Reserve and Open Prairie brands.
Seaboard Farms also unveiled a new case-ready Prairie Fresh USA Premium line.
Castelli Brothers Family of Foods, for its part, recently rolled out more fresh value-added products within its case ready-program, including beef, chicken, pork and turkey offerings that include marinated, seasoned, ready-to-cook and cook-in-the-bag options.
As case-ready assortments grow at retail, the parallel push for sustainability has led to innovations in more sustainable packaging. As it relaunched its brand of 100% grass-fed, 100% pasture-raised beef, Verde Farms reported that it aims to reduce the amount of packaging and hit other sustainability goals.
Tyson shared the news at AMC that its fresh meats division introduced flow-wrap packaging for case-ready ground beef as a way to cut down on plastic while optimizing shelf life and freshness.
Upstream, packaging suppliers are also investing in innovation for eco-friendlier packaging; Sealed Air, for example, has developed plant-based materials and products for its Cryovac portfolio made with post-consumer recycled materials, including board vacuum skin packaging and semi-rigid rollstock.
As the boon of case-ready products cuts down on backroom work, there are new opportunities to engage customers. In addition to helping shoppers with their orders at the full-service counter, meat department staff can also serve as important merchandisers in the adjacent case ready section, especially as consumers have been cooking more at home in the past few years and could use a little help.
“It’s about having an educated presence. I got a couple of questions (at AMC) about how to educate meat cutters to educate consumers,” Dik told Progressive Grocer, adding that solutions can be simple. “We can make short videos that they (meat department associates) can watch, especially when we are promoting products or adding new products. They can then use and share those ideas with consumers.”