Live From MeatCon: Winning New Meat Customers

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Live From MeatCon: Winning New Meat Customers

By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ - 02/24/2015

Grocers need to leverage meat’s connection to other categories to drive bigger baskets.

That was the advice from the Nielsen Perishables Group to retailers looking to deliver on evolving consumer preferences amid high protein prices, during a Monday morning session at the 2015 Annual Meat Conference in Nashville.

Sherry Frey, SVP at Nielsen, asserted that grocers can grow basket rings by delivering solutions through cross-promoting meat across multiple store categories. “Competition and partnerships hinge on connections across aisles,” Frey said.

It’s a solution aimed at halting category attrition, as price increases are driving people away from the meat case, leading to a 1 percent average decline in household penetration for beef, pork and chicken, historic protein mainstays; likewise down are meat sales volume and number of meat-buying trips.

Further, meat case sales are leaking to the in-store deli. “Deli is changing and really becoming a competitor to foodservice,” but it shouldn’t erode sales within the store, Frey said.

Grocers need to strategically target two key meat categories: versatile quick-cuts (premium priced smaller packs) and planned occasions (larger family packs). Reduced trade-ad activity has contributed to volume loss, Frey said, recommending that grocers promote meat in circulars as part of multicategory solutions, not isolated ingredients.

Meat should be treated in-store as such, too; that means “thinking differently on how to merchandise the store,” Frey said. “If you’re not willing to think differently and get creative, you’re vulnerable.”

Marketing meat-based solutions should focus on three things, Frey said: creating excitement, simplifying lives and personalization.

Further addressing the issue of meat pricing was the conference’s annual presentation by a trio of agricultural economists, who analyzed the market from the commodity level.

A good economy and changing preferences have created “a very positive demand situation for meat,” asserted Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics.

Ample feed stocks and flat ethanol use are expected to help boost herd development and ultimately moderate meat prices. Retail beef prices have peaked and demand has soared since 2009, noted Randy Blach, CEO of CattleFax, who said that meat and poultry production is expected to be “record large” in 2015. Further, U.S. poultry use is expected to top 100 pounds per person by 2016, noted Sue Trudell, VP of analytics at Express Markets Inc.

Other concurrent workshops focused on engaging meat consumers through social media and sustainability through modern factory farming. The morning’s sessions were rounded out by historian and author Maureen Ogle, who discussed her historical treatise, “Meat in America,” and how the history of meat production in the United States conflicts with the claims of food activists bent on demonizing the food industry, Big Ag and modern farming practices.

Exhibits and tasting expo

Monday’s highlight was the annual tasting reception, this year combined with the lunchtime tech expo to create a five-hour exhibition of meat purveyors and equipment suppliers, featuring more than 60 companies.

Among the booths I visited:

- Tyson Foods showed its Crafted Creations line, which brings several pre-seasoned and pre-marinated beef and pork entrees under a common banner. The 16-item line includes Beef Skirt Steak with Smokey Chili Sauce and Pork Shoulder for Carnitas; packaging includes call-outs such as “Great for Grilling” and “Skillet Ready.” 
- National Beef is targeting Millennials with its Food.eez “recipe-ready” beef cuts, with on-pack labels featuring product use tips and recipes. The line will be supported by a mobile-friendly website
- After extensive development, John Morrell Food Group has released its 50 percent reduced-fat hot dogs under the Nathan’s Famous brand, which “doesn’t sacrifice flavor with half the fat,” said Michael Paribello, senior director of marketing. Morrell has also expanded its LunchMakers kid-centric line with breakfast and snack items, and continues to grow its Eckrich smoked sausage business.
- Miller Poultry is launching Katie’s Best, a full line of non-GMO verified chicken that’s vegetarian-fed, air-chilled and free of antibiotics.
- Land O’Frost sampled its new Pure and Simple line of antibiotic-free, veg-fed luncheon meats, with two ham and two turkey varieties.
- Clemens Food Group sampled new thick-cut, triple-smoked, applewood and maple bacon under its Hatfield brand.
- Sealed Air showed its Darfresh on Tray packaging system that promises to speed plant packaging times, yields no scrap and extends product shelf life. Also on display were examples of Sealed Air’s evolving microwaveable plated entrée packaging.
- Hillphoenix displayed its Coolgenix 2.0 meat and seafood case with a glycol-based refrigeration system that purports to extend product shelf life.
- AHT Cooling Systems is launching a propane-fueled cooler and extolled the benefits of its plug-in multideck merchandisers and slim units designed for mid-aisle placement in alternate store departments.
- Bubba Burger sampled its new veggie burger and beef-based bacon cheddar burger, and also announced a grass-fed burger, to be sold in four-count 1-pound boxes.
- Smithfield Farmland sampled its new dry-rub ribs and pork-based Italian meatballs, and also showed its seasonal flavored-glaze spiral hams.
- Perdue Foods offered dishes prepared with its Simply Smart chicken; the clean-label line, which proclaims “no antibiotics ever,” includes fresh, heat-and-eat, and frozen products.
- Springer Mountain Farms sampled its gluten-free breaded chicken breast chunks.

Follow my daily show reports on Twitter @jimdudlicek, #MeatCon