The impact of the economy and higher prices for meat and poultry products are making a significant difference for consumers at the meat case, according to findings of a national consumer survey that were unveiled during the 2012 Annual Meat Conference in Orlando.
Price has taken on an ever-greater role in the meat purchasing decision process, as price per pound has solidified its number-one ranking as the most important decision factor for consumers, while total package cost is now the second most important decision factor, surpassing product appearance, according to the seventh annual Power of Meat study.
However, consumers seem to be saying they're resigned to increasing prices, paving the way for retailers to stress greater value for the price their customers are paying, according to Michael Uetz, principal at Midan Marketing. "Our biggest challenge is to get consumers beyond price issue -- how do we show them value? How can we help them extend their dollars?" Uetz said.
The study, conducted by 210 Analytics, was commissioned jointly by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute, sponsored by Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging Division, and conducted by Midan Marketing.
Uetz further stressed opportunities for retailers to help educate consumers on different cuts of meat and different ways to use them in their daily meals.
Shoppers who try to save money on groceries typically resort to a variety of money-saving measures both pre-trip and in the store. But for the first time this year, the share of shoppers simply opting to buy less (and thus spend less) equaled the share using lists, coupons and other saving measures. In terms of meat and poultry, dollar sales increased by 2.5 percent, but volume sales decreased by 5.3 percent as a result of inflation across proteins.
Consumer focus on price and value is further underscored by the growing share of shoppers engaging in pre-trip research and planning meals around promotions. However, an even greater share compares prices while in the store. The end result is greater shopper flexibility to adjust purchases to spend less.
Full-service supermarkets continue to be a stronghold for fresh meat and poultry, with high retention rates and a pick-up of shoppers from other channels, especially supercenters. The emphasis on in-store purchasing decisions makes clear signage and effective operations all the more important. Price-related promotions are especially effective for steering people to a certain kind of meat or poultry and slightly less effective for the amount purchased.
Private-brand meat and poultry remains popular. However, rather than an outright preference, it is better defined as a greater willingness to purchase private brands. This led to an increase in the share of “switchers” — shoppers who do not have a preference for national or private brand, but choose based on other factors, predominantly price. Meanwhile, shoppers’ reduced interest in volume-based discounts, such as bulk and buy-one-get one free, as measured last year, did not rebound any this year.
Despite economic pressures, natural and organic meat and poultry experienced an uptick in the number of buyers over the past year to 24 percent of shoppers. Additionally, 90 percent of shoppers predict they will buy about the same (70 percent) or more (20 percent) next year.
Meat and poultry play an important role at the American dinner table, with chicken and beef making up the largest share of purchases. The fresh category continues to be much larger than the heat-and-eat and ready-to-eat categories, but the latter continue to show signs of strength for the convenience-oriented shopper. Another area of growth is marinated meat and poultry, with an increasing share of shoppers preparing their own mixes or purchasing marinades or spice mixes along with the meat/poultry.
Despite the popularity of meat and poultry, shoppers’ knowledge and preparation skills leave much to be desired. When asking for advice on how to best prepare meat or poultry, family and friends are the predominant source of information, followed by digital resources, such as the internet and apps. Only 6 percent would turn to the butcher or meat department. Yet, interest in a “here’s-how-it’s-done” type service in the meat department is moderately high, providing suppliers and retailers with an excellent opportunity to connect with shoppers in new ways.
Lastly, the survey probed into ways retailers can improve the meat department to encourage meat and poultry purchases. Down from 40 percent last year, 30 percent say nothing retailers or manufacturers will do or offer will persuade them to purchase more. Among shoppers that do see room for improvement, better quality and greater variety are the two key areas.