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MeatCon Wrap-up: The Power of Meat


Shoppers recognize the variety of nutrition benefits meat and poultry offer, and place a high value on convenience, variety and transparency when making purchasing decisions in the meat aisle, according to the "Power of Meat" survey released by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI). 

FMI and NAMI this week unveiled the eleventh annual report, conducted by 210 Analytics, in partnership with Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand, at the Annual Meat Conference in Nashville, Tenn.  The report examines meat purchasing, preparation and consumption trends through the eyes of the shopper.

Supermarkets strengthened their position as shoppers’ primary destination for meat and poultry, though consumers increasingly chose alternative channels, like farmers’ markets, dollar stores, farm-direct and online stores, for certain meat and poultry purchases. This trend was particularly evident among Millennial consumers, who exhibited a higher propensity to shop at alternative outlets for meat products.

Along with price, consumer desire for transparency in the product and production process drove sales gains, with segments such as “antibiotic-free,” “grass-fed,” “hormone-free,” “natural” and “organic” meat and poultry recording high growth percentages, despite remaining niche market segments. 

But while interest in natural, organic and other clean-label identifiers has surged in the last five years, “interest does not always translate to actual usage,” said study presenter Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 201 Analytics, noting that shopper likelihood of selecting natural/organic over conventional products drops considerably as the price gap widens.

Cleanliness and freshness are the top attributes shoppers look for in their grocer’s meat department, Roerink noted, with staff knowledge and availability among the top opportunities for improvement.

While inclusion of meat and poultry as a portion of a home-cooked dinner remained steady at 3.7 times per week, shoppers changed their purchasing patterns slightly and sought more variety in their dinner lineups, with upticks in pork, lamb, value-added and meat alternatives.  Convenience meats, which include heat-and-eat, ready-to-eat and value-added products, also experienced sales growth, particularly among millennial shoppers, who seek flavorful, fast and easy meal solutions.  

“The meat department is a deciding factor for any grocery shopper, as evidenced by 27 percent of shoppers switching outlets when purchasing fresh meat or poultry compared with where they purchase the majority of their groceries,” said Rick Stein, FMI’s VP of fresh foods. “The research underlines how food retailers have an enormous opportunity to combine the knowledge and skills of the neighborhood butcher with the creativity and flavor inspiration of a culinary chef to earn loyalty, grow sales and differentiate.”

Regarding purchasing-decision drivers, price per pound, along with total package price, emerged as the dominant factor influencing meat and poultry product purchases, with product appearance falling to third place. Total package price proved more important to small households and millennials, suggesting the future importance of package size variety and price ceilings.

The majority of shoppers—more than eight in 10—affirmed the important role meat and poultry play as sources of protein and other key nutrients in a healthy, balanced diet.  The annual report series found consumers were most likely to say red meat, including beef, pork and lamb, were important to energy levels and provided nutrients such as iron and protein.

Meanwhile, maintaining a healthy weight and receiving vital nutrients were factors associated with poultry.  The findings were consistent across generations, with millennials only slightly less likely to cite meat and poultry’s health benefits.      

“Meat and poultry remain shoppers’ go-to source for protein and essential nutrients,” said NAMI President and CEO Barry Carpenter.  “The industry is working hard to respond to consumer demands for transparency, and is continuing to offer a variety of convenient, flavorful and nutritious fresh and processed products to an increasingly diverse consumer base, particularly with regards to millennial shoppers, whose influence is growing at retail.”

The Power of Meat report is based on data collected through an online survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,360 U.S. consumers.  

Millennial meet-ups

The importance of the oft-discussed key demographic was explored further in “Meating the Millennials,” which kicked off the conference’s final day Tuesday, led by Chris DuBois and Larry Levin of IRI.

Shoppers are becoming more ethnically diverse, and “at the heart of the diversity are Millennials,” Levin said, explaining that “this means we have to adjust our flavor profiles. Millennials are at the forefront of taste innovation.”

To connect with Millennials, retailers and brand marketers must understand how they shop and move beyond misconceptions about the generation. Among Millennials’ cherished values: they equate success with being a good friend, working for a cause and contributing to the community.

While price is the top factor in their purchasing decisions, with 70 percent choosing price over brand, Millennials also favor brands that are local, natural, organic and innovative. Digital is a critical part of their pre-shop path to purchase.

“The meat department has a huge opportunity to influence in the store,” DuBois said. “It’s a chance to help a new generation learn how to cook, shop and buy.”

According to IRI, Millennials spend more on chicken than other age groups, and spend double when fresh meat is in their basket than when it’s not. They also buy more items boasting protein claims.

Levin said a key segment of Millennials to target are what IRI calls “New Traditionalists” – older, more educated and affluent consumers who make up 21 percent of this generation. Retailers and brands can reach them more effectively by aggressively shifting their marketing spend to digital, boosting digital and conventional in-store marketing, investing in social media, and stressing meat as the original source of protein.

Following up in a concurrent session on consumption patterns was NPD Group’s David Portalatin with his “State of the Meat Eater” report.

Amid an economy slow to emerge from the last recession, “consumers are just not flush with cash,” Portalatin said. As such, meat has not kept pace with a return to home meals and is shifting from center-of-plate to ingredient status.

Meat marketers would be wise to adopt strategies that involve the top growth food segments, including chicken, eggs, pizza, frozen entrees, sandwiches and meat snacks. They should also pay attention to “clean eaters” who favor natural and organic products and eschew processed ones, Portalatin advised.

The industry also needs to leverage the emotional aspects of the dinner occasion, including aromas, warmth and comfort.

Other concurrent sessions Tuesday focused on antibiotic use in animal agriculture and challenges to meat nutrition and safety.

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