by Terrie Ellerbee/ editor-Midwest & Southwest
Meat department dollars and volume were basically flat in 2017. According to Anne-Marie Roerink, 2018 could be a better year if retailers are willing to break with routine. More to the point, they need to help shoppers break out of theirs. Roerink, a principal with 210 Analytics, presented “The Power of Meat” report at the Annual Meat Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in late February. She led conference attendees through 10 megatrends that can be leveraged to drive growth in household and plate penetration, trips to the store and basket sizes.
The Power of Meat survey has asked respondents a few times over the years who they turn to for help when they are cooking a meat they’ve not prepared before. Several years ago, moms, friends and family won hands down. Then, digital resources edged up and beat mom by about 2 percent. Today, 47 percent say they turn to a digital resource vs. 17 percent who ask mom, a friend or family member.
“But the one thing that has been solid is that only 7 percent turn to the butcher or someone in the meat department when they have a question about how to cook meat,” Roerink said. “The question is, do they not recognize us as an authority or are we simply not available when they want this information?”
Getting recipes online and through apps is fine, she said. But in-store experts have to become part of the consumer’s thought process. Shoppers estimated that 71 percent of their purchases are self-selected from the meat case.
“If people just walk up, they’re going to stick to their routines,” Roerink said. “We cannot expect somebody to venture out if they did the same thing they did the week before and the two weeks before that. We have to interrupt their routine. Not disrupt it, but we have to interrupt their routine.”
She offered a few suggestions. The first is a full-service meat counter.
“For a while there, we were yanking them out of our stores, but we all came back from that and 80 percent of shoppers say now that ‘I have a full-service case at my store,’” she said.
Of those who said they had the full-service counter, 72 percent said they were glad it is there.
“If we have a counter, let’s make sure we leverage the value of it to our full ability,” Roerink said.
If those surveyed responded that their store did not have a service counter, 64 percent said they wish it did.
“If you average that out, 70 percent of the population loves having a full-service counter,” she said. “Make sure you talk about the true value of the counter.”
Second, Roerink said to find ways start a conversation. Have signs in the meat case boasting about different or exclusive varieties available at the service counter. Tell them to talk to the people at the service case about what to serve for dinner. Steal the “chef-developed” or “chef-inspired” idea that has worked so well in deli/prepared foods and use it in the meat case.
Shoppers have embraced case-ready offerings, so have a store associate nearby offering to answer any questions they may have.
Another suggestion is to go down a familiar road. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they would be willing to make a new recipe with a familiar meat based on recommendations from a meat associate. If a shopper is comfortable cooking chicken breasts, offer new ideas or new recipes that would help them break out of their routine.
Forty-five percent of respondents said in the most current survey that they would try a new recipe with a familiar meat based on recommendations from their social network, family or friends. That is a full 10 percentage points higher than those who said they would try it based on a meat associate’s advice.
Retailers should work to become a trusted household name through tweets, blogs, vlogs, posts, snaps, pins and TV appearances.
“Building that trust and building that personality is extremely important,” Roerink said.
Retailers also could introduce shoppers to the families who deliver the meat that is in the store or show people how to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. On-pack recipes are another great way to connect.
“We need to make sure we’re at the intersection of every single decision point,” Roerink said. “That might be in-store. It might be outside. It might be after people have bought the meat or poultry. Recipes on-pack can have a great influence on what people buy.”
Be a resource for shoppers by offering them solutions and helping them to break out of their routine.
“Offer customization and make sure that people are not always buying the same things. That’s really our step number one,” she said.
There are so many places where people can buy meat today.
“We used to worry just about the supermarket up the street. Now we worry about the two supermarkets up the street, the two down the street, the club, the supercenter, the dollar store, the convenience store, the online meal kit delivery,” Roerink said.
For this year’s Power of Meat report, respondents were asked to name the actual store where they purchased meat. That way, the survey could be more specific when it comes to the various formats. Supermarkets still reign, but limited assortment and organic/specialty stores are gaining.
“If you think about the channels that are growing, such as club and limited, for meat, they are very, very specific in their offering,” she said. “People know exactly what they go there for.”
As for those who buy groceries in one format and meat in another, supermarkets have a strong showing. Twenty-two percent of shoppers still choose other formats, like farmers markets, butcher shops or convenience stores for their meat purchasing but that is down five percentage points vs. last year. In addition, supermarkets are far and away the destination for people who switch from one store to another to buy meat, with 54 percent of shoppers choosing them.
Meanwhile, shoppers are gaining confidence around online meat purchases. The last time they were asked about online purchases was in 2015. People not buying groceries online fell from 81 percent to 62 percent over that period. Shoppers not buying meat online fell from 92 to 81 percent.
“What we’re seeing is that people are a lot less hesitant to consider or try buying online,” Roerink said. “Hesitance is also turning into a much greater willingness to try; 19 percent have bought meat online. Now, it might be once. It might just be a pack of hot dogs, but that is up 4 percent since 2015.”
The main reason people do not order meat online continues to be that they want to choose the product themselves. Roerink said retailers should leverage that trust so that when shoppers do decide to shop for meat online that they choose their favorite grocer.
This is where differentiation really comes into play. Make sure shoppers understand the strengths of their local grocer. Have a unique assortment. Signature items also are a draw.
“And brag a little. If you are the best, then say that you’re the best and start building that position,” Roerink said.
The survey asks every year whether people prefer manufacturer or private brands. Consumers are showing more loyalty to their favorite brands. While half of respondents had no brand preference for fresh meat, that number is down from 74 percent, and 42 percent had no brand preference for processed meat, down from 63 percent.
Manufacturer brands always have played a bigger role in fresh and processed meats. Thirty percent and 44 percent said they prefer manufacturer brands in fresh and processed, respectively.
The survey for the first time this year asked respondents why they prefer manufacturer brands. For 63 percent, it was familiarity.
“There are also secondary reasons that are extremely important. People believe that brands deliver better quality, better value and better consistency, and those are the kinds of things we can leverage in meat very effectively,” Roerink said.
Brands also can drive trials; 62 percent of those surveyed said they would try another brand if they were incentivized by a promotion.
“It comes down to telling the brand story as effectively as you can all throughout,” she said. “For a retailer, brands are a great opportunity to have a unique assortment, be it your own items or unique assortments of brands that they can only find in your store.”
Roerink said Millennials’ preferences offer a glimpse into the future, and those ages 26-37 place more emphasis on value, animal welfare and post-purchase shelf life than their Baby Boomer counterparts.