Variety, value and education – those in the know say these factors are going to be among the most influential for grocers looking to boost their meat case’s role as a profit center.
As the price of meat continues to stabilize following the elevated levels of the past several years due to drought, high feed prices and culled herds, consumers not otherwise experimenting with alternative proteins will find values from grocers savvy enough to deliver mealtime solutions. Strategic partnerships with meat suppliers will help retailers bring customers the greatest value.
“As an industry, one of the techniques employed is a ‘good, better, best’ pricing model at the meat case,” says Kent Harrison, VP of marketing and premium programs at Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based Tyson Fresh Meats.
For example, Harrison explains, a retailer might offer thinner-cut pork chops at the meat case at an attractive price, as well as thicker-cut chops right next to them, encouraging consumers to trade up to a higher quality product.
“Retailers must make sure to stock their case with a variety of choices, to give consumers the option of moving up to the next tier of quality, which will also be an opportunity for the retailer to gain higher total dollar sales,” he says. “Some retailers may use a dual price strategy, with a product offering that might be better than a competing product, and then a best or premium brand in the same protein category at a more limited SKU set. Price-per-pound gaps between the two tiers should remain consistent at all times regardless of turn or feature business. This can sometimes be easily applied by having the best product in the full-service meat case.”
Patrick Fleming, director of market intelligence and innovation for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, concurs.
“Our research shows that consumers need to feel like there is enough of a variety in the case, and consumers relate variety in the meat case with the number of packages available, not the number of SKUs,” Fleming says. “Retailers should be stocking at least four packages of each item on display, especially during holidays and seasonal times, when meat department traffic is highest.
Our research also shows that the key to increase pork sales is to get on consumers’ shopping list. Increased frequency of promotion is just as important as the depth of the promotion. Most of the time, we can get pork into consumers shopping carts just by reminding them.”
Sean Brady, senior marketing manager for Charlotte, N.C.-based Sealed Air Corp., asserts that value can be expressed or perceived by customers in many different ways. “We know that actual price can have an effect, but more consumers are also looking at other factors: appearance (buying with their eyes) and benefits (like shelf life, easy-open, no mess, no leaking packages, etc.),” Brady says.
To that end, he says, vertical displays are gaining ground, enabled by appropriate packaging such as Sealed Air's new Cryovac Darfresh On Tray easy-open package that allows meat items to be vertically displayed, provides extended shelf life and is freezer-ready. Darfresh also employs vacuum packaging technology, which Brady says “through education, consumers are beginning to understand the value it brings and what they find to be important: freshness and convenience.”
What products are driving growth in the meat case?
“One of the faster-growing categories is value-added and pre-seasoned/pre-marinated meat products,” Tyson’s Harrison says. “Value-added meat products make it easy and convenient for consumers to get dinner on the table, for which they are often willing to pay a premium.”
For example: Tyson’s Crafted Creations brand of seasoned and marinated beef and pork products, recently honored as a PG Editors’ Pick.
Fleming, too, observes the value in value-added. “Retailers are also adding value by offering more options in convenience packaging, which is a growing trend in the meat department,” he says. “We’re seeing Ziploc packaging, single-serve portion sizes and different forms of family packs to meet the various needs of consumers. We know that both Millennials and Baby Boomers want meat packages that serve a single meal. Consumers in these age groups generally don’t want leftovers, and prefer smaller package sizes that are just enough for one meal.”
Research presented by the Wooster, Ohio-based Certified Angus Beef brand indicates demand for premium products remains consistent even in recessionary periods. Tanya Mark, a researcher at Canada’s University of Guelph, speaking at CAB’s recent brand conference in San Antonio, Texas, outlined the idea of “hedonistic consumption,” in which consumers spend on affordable indulgences like fine foods for home consumption while cutting back on dining out and other luxuries.
Tracey Erickson, CAB’s VP of marketing, cited research showing more than 80 percent of shoppers would pay up to $1 more per pound for CAB-branded ground beef, suggesting better returns for grocers who upgrade their grind programs from commodity to branded.
Meanwhile, with traditional eating occasions behind redefined, meat purchases are extending beyond regular mealtimes.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Chicken Council, 85 percent of consumers ate a chicken meal or snack purchased from a supermarket and 67 percent ate a chicken meal or snack from a foodservice establishment in the two weeks leading up to its June 2015 online survey.
“Chicken remains America’s favorite protein and consumers’ affinity for it shows no signs of waning,” NCC SVP of Communications Tom Super says on the group’s website. “This latest data confirms that, but it also presents some opportunities and challenges in the year ahead.”
In the next 12 months, 23 percent of consumers anticipate eating more chicken from the supermarket and 14 percent anticipate eating more from a foodservice establishment.
As grocers move toward selling meals rather than just ingredients, the meat case can become the anchor for lucrative cross merchandising.
“Whether it is merchandising with refrigerated mashed potatoes or pastas or vegetables, promoting meat with products that help consumers with their daily dinner dilemma can be beneficial to multiple departments across the store,” Harrison says. “We’re also hearing a lot about the fact that many consumers are using meat as an ingredient than as a center-of-the plate item. Retailers can benefit from embracing this trend and giving consumers new ideas of where they can use meat as an ingredient – this can be anything from a pasta dish to a protein-packed salad to a hearty soup.”
The pork board’s Fleming points to a successful summer cross-promotional campaign with Kraft’s A.1 steak sauce: “By grouping like items together that give consumers a whole meal solution, we were able to drive sales for the center store as well as the meat department.”
Preparing dishes requires recipes, which present opportunities for consumer education. “One of the most important things retailers can do is educate consumers on how to prepare fresh meat,” Harrison asserts. “We need to educate them on the various cuts of meat available to them, and the best preparation methods. Making sure they have positive eating experiences ensures repeat purchases and long-term loyalty.”
Another significant educational opportunity, Fleming says, is to merchandise cuts at retail using new common names developed in 2013. “We are working with retailers across the country to implement these common names for fresh pork cuts and differentiating pork chops by price,” he says. “By offering grilling cuts that consumers already know how to cook, including ribeye, New York and porterhouse, pork chops will be seen by consumers as an attractive alternative to other higher-priced items in the meat case.”
What issues are going to be most important to a successful meat case?
Sealed Air’s Brady points to the basics: Clean cases, no out-of-stocks, shelf life and employees well versed in all aspects of the product.
“Retailers need to be vigilant in identifying their customer's needs, and evaluate their product mix and current merchandising programs to best meet those needs,” Fleming says.
With health and nutrition continuing to be important for consumers, Harrison says retailers have an opportunity to tell meat’s protein story. “Fresh meat is the best source of natural protein there is, and we do not do a good enough job of touting this to our consumers,” he says. “As more consumers become aware of the importance of protein in their diets, this is a message that needs to be shared by everyone in the industry.”
For related insights, see how Millennials are shopping for meat here.