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Omnichannel And E-commerce ‘Here To Stay’ For Meat Industry

AMC meat industry

by Kevin Atwill / editor

The third day of the virtual Annual Meat Conference wrapped up Wednesday with concurrent workshops on a variety of topics affecting the industry.

In a session titled, “The New Future of Omnichannel and E-Commerce,” two leading experts addressed how omnichannel retail is helping boost the lifetime value of customers, increase consumer spending and improve the buying experience.

The speakers – Mike Salguero, CEO of ButcherBox, and David Zucker, chief marketing officer with Perdue – shared lessons they learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and how to best prepare to transform business operations.

ButcherBox is an e-commerce firm that delivers grass-fed beef, free range organic chicken and heritage breed pork to consumers. Reflecting on March 2000, Salguero recalled how his company “saw unprecedented growth, unprecedented traffic, unprecedented sign-ups.”

“We got to a point where we knew we would not have enough meat for our members,” he said. “We’re a subscription business, but we want to ship a box of meat every month. And that was the point where we went to a wait list because we wanted to make sure there was enough meat for our members.

“We were also trying to figure out what does Q4 look like and what is purchasing going to look like at the back half of the year because you have to make commitments early for animals, especially claims-based animals. We had forecasted another big spike, which did happen, but the level at which people were purchasing online was not [the same].”

From Salguero’s perspective, it seems as if in March, April, May “people’s habits kind of got shifted. And then by the end of the year, their habits had had already been in in place.”

Zucker said the experience was similar for Perdue.

“We’re a company that is primarily in in the in the space of supplying products to [retailers],” he said. “We’re not really in the direct-to-consumer movements and the online business. And what we saw was a significant need to change a lot of our advertising, which is set up and developed almost a year in advance sometimes.

“We had to rethink about messaging that was kind of much more on tone with what a lot of our associates, a lot of our customers, a lot of our friends and family were experiencing.”

He added that Perdue also had to change distribution partners, which was “quite dramatic.”

Zucker also noted that understanding the three channels of retail purchasing – traditional in-store, traditional e-commerce and “this huge world in between.”

“Everyone is paying attention to it, but it’s really something that I think is going to continue to be disruptive – I’m purchasing something online, but I’m going to retail to actually pick it up.”

In response to a question about whether shoppers will continue to buy online in such high numbers, Salguero cited the SARS epidemic in China.

“They locked down the country. E-commerce rates went way up – this is 2003 – and they never came back,” he said. “So the penetration that we’ve seen for e-commerce into grocery, I don’t think is ever coming back.

“At some point, you kind of have to look around the table and say, ‘This is here to stay, this is a different way of shopping.’ There are a lot of different ways to engage in e-commerce, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I anything, I think it is going to grow.”

Asked how the industry landscape will look in five to 10 years, Zucker mentioned comfort.

“The one thing that people are way more comfortable with now is buying food online,” he said. “And what COVID did was it got people really comfortable with having someone else pick out their food and having it shipped.

“We’re going to have to be more sensitive to providing a higher quality of product without the consumer actually touching it ever, instead of assuming they’re going to touch it every single time, which in some cases is kind of disruptive, right?

“I think five years from now, we’re going to see a lot better marketing and a lot better product development, that’s going to allow consumers to be less connected physically to the actual product.”

He also noted that learning from the digital space can carry over to retail. “These larger retailers are going to start to figure out how to buy because they’re going to start hiring people that can use their digital properties to gain very quick insights around what works and what doesn’t work.”

Salguero sees opportunity in the future.

“The reality is that despite all this penetration that happened because of COVID, 70 percent of people are still buying their meat at a grocery store,” he said. “While I think [more of] it will continue to go online…I just see that as a really big opportunity, one that we’re really going after pretty hard.”

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