If everything is big in Texas, so was the news coming out of the Annual Meat Conference (AMC) that recently wrapped in Dallas. After a pandemic hiatus, this event hosted by FMI - The Food Industry Association and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) was back in a major way, as those throughout the farm-to-table chain came together from March 6-8 to talk about industry challenges, changes and opportunities. The event itself underwent a refresh, with new branding developed in tandem with Midan Marketing to evoke a modern protein experience. Suffice it to say there was a lot of meat to this matter.
Sussing out Sustainability
The push for sustainability in its multiple forms – environmentally-friendlier practices, social responsibility and food access for a growing global population, among other facets – was evident throughout this year’s AMC, from show floor displays to general and breakout sessions. In fact, upwards of half of the booths featured some kind of sustainability message or product.
Kicking off the program, Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics shared some sustainability-related trends featured in the 2023 "Power of Meat" report published by FMI and NAMI and conducted by Roerink’s firm. According to the "Power of Meat" research, about half of meat shoppers are confident that grocery stores are committed to responsible and ethical sourcing; 46% report that they there is enough information provided by grocers; and 21% don’t believe there are adequate details. Moreover, 58% of shoppers think it would be helpful to have some kind of animal welfare ratings or certifications for the meat they buy.
Many meat suppliers are getting there. Verde Farms for example, shared information at AMC about its new Land to Farm verification, which affirms that its farmers and ranchers are realizing positive outcomes to land health. Dozens of participating brands and processors touted their more sustainable offerings, like industry behemoth Tyson Foods' new Brazen Beef line and Schweid and Sons' new portfolio of “climate-friendly” beef. Maple Leaf Foods shared details about its Carbon Neutral status, as that company purchases highly credible offsets to account for emissions not yet avoided, reduced or displaced.
Taking it Personally
With an overall show theme of “Protein Made Personal,” the effort to provide consumers with the meat products they want when and how they want them was a hot topic. Here, too, the “Power of Meat” report underscores the fact that price, quality and reputation are key factors influencing where people buy most of their meat. Personalization extends to the demand for a more diversified meat case, where shoppers can choose from conventional, organic/natural, sustainable and branded products with a variety of protein types, cuts, sizes and packaging.
Messaging is also part of personalization, and one session at AMC addressed the growing move by brands and retailers to invest in social media influencer marketing and to engage with shoppers via social media in general.
The impact of inflation continues to be felt in the meat department as in other areas of food retailing. A deep dive into the "Power of Meat" presented at AMC shows that 76% of meat eaters are adapting what kind of meat they buy and 71% are adjusting what brand of meat and poultry they purchase. In some cases, shoppers are trending toward ground meat cuts that are priced lower than premium cuts, but splurging on steaks and other higher-end portions for special occasions. That, too, played to the variety of products showcased by vendors on the show floor, with many suppliers carrying a veritable litany of protein products available at different price points.
The Case-Ready and Service-Case Balancing Act
Backroom tasks continue to look different in retail meat departments as case ready offerings widen. According to "Power of Meat," shopper acceptance of case ready products is at an all-time high, but 70% of shoppers still look to their full-service counter for items like special and premium cuts. Nearly half of consumers want to be able to talk to a meat department employee for tips or assistance.
Likewise, the show floor at AMC featured an array of case-ready options as well as protein cuts designed for a more premium experience and suited for a butcher case. Indeed, if product sampling at the event is any indication, the craving for premium meats remains strong.