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LIVE FROM MEATCON: Meat Has the Power


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“If someone wants to pay $8 for a chicken breast, I’m willing to sell it to them.”

That was definitely the quote of the day, by Associated Food Stores’ meat boss Kelly Mortensen, in discussing the continued growth in sales of natural and organic meats. Organics is the one meat subsegment in which consumers’ choices are not primarily motivated by price, so grocers have an opportunity to cash in by delivering on promises of quality, selection, and health and wellness.

This was just one of the topics tackled by Mortensen (photo, second from left) and his fellow panelists discussing the 2014 Power of Meat study, rolled out Tuesday morning in the final session of this year’s Annual Meat Conference in Atlanta.

Shoppers place high importance on value, quality and variety when making purchasing decisions in the meat aisle, according to the survey published by American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute. The ninth-annual report, conducted by 210 Analytics in partnership with Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand, explores purchasing, preparation and consumption trends through the eyes of shoppers.

What should be the best news for grocers: The supermarket continues to dominate as the primary destination for meat-eating consumers – 62 percent of shoppers get their meat at the supermarket, followed by supercenters, specialty grocers and butcher shops.

As the number of home-cooked meals containing meat or poultry increased slightly from 3.6 to 3.8 dinners per week, consumption of heat-and-eat and ready-to-eat items also increased. With one-third of shoppers undecided whether they will cook or eat out as little as two hours before dinner time, value-added products offer tremendous opportunity to capture more of the mealtime dollar.

Panelist Nancy Chagares of Bi-Lo (photo, second from right) said grocers need to deliver more variety in value-added and seasoned items, as well as package sizes. “Answering their needs will be key to keeping more shoppers in the supermarket,” she said.

Mortensen said providing on-site service and attention is critical. “We need to make the meat cutter a celebrity in our stores,” he asserted.

In addition to quality, the study affirmed that strong customer service, in-stock performance and variety are the main drivers of meat department satisfaction. As an imperative to departmental satisfaction and shopper retention, customer service largely focused on having knowledgeable meat managers available for questions. Shoppers not only value service, but cite they would absolutely (33 percent) or maybe (53 percent) use hands-on preparation and recipe tips.

Meanwhile, the report also found that health and wellness continues to represent a growing trend in decision-making in the meat aisle. Thirty-one percent of shoppers put “a lot” of effort into nutritious choices, specifically regarding meat and poultry. The data further suggest a study-high of 78 percent of survey respondents agreeing that fresh meat nutrition information is readily available.

The industry needs to be more proactive than reactive in getting the message out about meat nutrition, said Michael Uetz, principal at Midan Marketing (photo, left). “If we don’t take extra steps to provide more information, we’re going to lose out,” he said.

Mortensen agreed: “We don’t do enough to explain the nutritional aspects of beef.”

Although price remains the leading factor in purchasing decisions, the Power of Meat suggests price’s dominance is losing steam relative to other factors like package size, product appearance and nutrition.

Even so, 83 percent of shoppers check promotions across stores, with the paper circular being the most commonly used research tool. These weekly sales promotions are an integral part of meal planning, and for some, channel choice. Of course, as was repeatedly noted throughout the conference, grocers need to step up their digital game to better connect with Millennials as this increasingly influential and tech-savvy consumer bloc grows to eclipse Baby Boomers in purchasing power.

The complete study is available online.

Other Wellness Issues

Among other Tuesday sessions was a discussion of antibiotic use in meat and poultry, and the challenge of misinformation about the issue among consumers.

Midan Marketing’s Danette Amstein noted a “slow trend upward” over time of interest in antibiotic use in meat, based on Internet searches. This interest is, in large part, driven by news coverage of the issue that all seem to suggest that “antibiotics are bad,” Amstein said, noting that, for consumers, “their perception is their reality,” and that perception is based on a lack of direct knowledge of the issue.

As such, it’s a challenge for processors and retailers to overcome consumers’ ignorance of facts such as how antibiotic use in animals is closely regulated and how treatments must run their course and be out of an animal’s system before it’s slaughtered for market.

Consumers seem to be most concerned with the possibility of trace antibiotic residues having a negative impact on humans and the possibility of resistance to pathogens developing over time.

Betsy Booren, VP of scientific affairs at the American Meat Institute (photo above right), noted that AMI is committed to researching new therapeutic options for livestock and further understanding the affect of antibiotics in the food chain. “This is not a minor issue for our industry,” she said.

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