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.
Otherwise known as transparency, ethical living is driving new dollars in the meat department. Organic, hormone/antibiotic-free, natural, grass-fed and free-range claims have increased and shoppers are looking for them. Sales of conventional products without any of these claims have basically flatlined.
“There continues to be double-digit growth both on the dollar and in the volume side for many of these claims,” Roerink said.
The Power of Meat survey asked new questions in this area, including whether respondents had seen these claims. The natural claim had the highest awareness, with hormone-free and antibiotic free close behind, followed by free range, humanely raised and vegetarian fed.
“Now what was very interesting is that Millennials actually are much more likely to act on claims but were much less likely to have seen them,” she said. “They’re not in our stores as often, and so we need to figure out a way to educate on claims beyond the stores and get that recognition up.”
There is a price differential between conventional and these more “transparent” products, but building awareness as to why they cost more could help drive sales. But don’t overdo it.
“We need to make sure we don’t overwhelm people with our claims and go claim-happy on our packaging,” Roerink said. “Also, go beyond packaging. Let’s figure out a way to tell people about what it means in the ad, have brochures they can take home, online, have some iron mans in the store to really explain and tell the story of all these different items.”
Shoppers who are looking to their grocery store for help with health and wellness are extremely valuable not just in the meat department but across the store. These typically are high-income shoppers who view price as secondary to health benefits.
“We need to figure out a way to embrace them and not really be scared of them,” Roerink said. “They’re not looking to avoid meat. They’re just looking to buy meat differently. They’re focused on leaner cuts and moderation.”
The survey asked shoppers how retail could help with their health and wellness goals, and 72 percent said they wanted package size variety. They also want employees to help them with better-for-you choices.
“The two biggest barriers to healthy eating in meat that we’ve found in prior years have been, well, it’s too expensive and it just doesn’t taste as good,” Roerink said. “Work with your retail dietitians and others in the store to come up with suggestions where it doesn’t cost more or it doesn’t sacrifice taste.”
One-third of respondents said retail dietitians are important to them and that number is expected to grow as availability grows. Shoppers need to be taught the value they bring.
Transparency is important here as well. Sixty-five percent said dietary callouts and information are of value to them. The most desired information, in order of popularity, is the protein content, total fat, sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, calories and iron.
“People are first and foremost asking looking for the protein content,” she said. “Which is great for us because we’re the protein department. I mean, everybody else is stealing our thunder. A lot of categories are moving on that protein message and very few of us are.”
People also are seeking convenience above price. Heat-and-eat is growing in household penetration and in the number of times shoppers buy it.
“And people want more,” Roerink said. “Forty-two percent say I want more fully-cooked meat in my store to save time.”
Value-added products are poised for growth and have driven dollars year after year. In 2016, just 9 percent of people bought value-added; that has risen to 21 percent.
Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they could be enticed to purchase more value-added meat products if the price were right (60 percent in that group) and there was a greater assortment (36 percent).
“We have a lot of production out there; 2018 is going to be a year when we can take some risks,” Roerink said. “Let’s figure out how to prove the convenience to more people and get people to try it. Price can really get more involvement.”
People who buy value-added products frequently also want more variety and flavors and cross-merchandising.
“It’s just like what we see in meal kits and just like we see in restaurants, we have to keep inventing and reinventing in terms of the value-added flavors,” she said.
Respondents were asked about what besides fully cooked and value-added would help them save time. Forty-five percent said a station that groups items for an entire meal together would be a good idea.
Put cheese next to hamburgers, peppers and onions next to fajita meat, put up a small sign that tells shoppers how great baked apples go with pork.
Shoppers always offer feedback in the survey. There were more than 800 open-ended comments in this year’s Power of Meat report. These were divided into four areas:
- More clarity on product quality and freshness to accurately judge value. Sample comments: “In marinated meat, show the grade or fat percentage so I know you’re not covering up crappy meat” and “Make sure the expensive stuff is really good so I don’t splurge on steak and it’s tough.”
- Greater variety, including pack sizes, cuts/kinds and specialty items. Comments: “Please stock at least one organic, humanely raised and free-range option for each type of meat” and “Increase availability of more atypical meats (venison, elk, rabbit, etc.).”
- Better pricing and promotions. Comments: “Better prices, though we started buying the store label and it’s great” and “Have better price tags, more visible/bigger fonts.”
- Operational excellence, with a focus on better customer service, more information and outreach, packaging innovation, better in-stock performance and cleanliness. Comments: “Be more available. I have to chase the guys around to get a question answered” and “Better information on real meaning of the label terms. For instance, what is grass fed? Don’t cows eat grass, period?”
“It’s really operations,” Roerink said. “People are looking for cleanliness, in-stock. That is the number one detractor for satisfaction. It is making sure you have available and friendly people. Making sure that your store at 8 p.m. is as good as it can be when shoppers are in your store at 10 a.m. And that’s really what the bulk of the comments were about.”