by Eric Pereira / staff writer
Retail grocery is constantly changing and so are shoppers. For meat industry professionals, a point of focus is keeping animal protein on consumer plates.
One of the topics of the “Keeping Consumers at Retail” panel discussion, the last of the virtual 2021 Annual Meat Conference, was consumer behavior shifts, as 2020 was an accelerator.
Moderator Dhamu Thamodaran, retired EVP and chief commodity hedging officer for Smithfield Foods, raised the subject of dramatic changes in consumer behavior. Are they here for the long run?
“I think we definitely are seeing permanent behavior shifts,” said Lisa Selk, VP of market meat products at Hormel Foods. “And as we went through this past year, people were probably forced into new behaviors by being kind of locked in their homes for a while.”
She went on to say that this behavior change is going to stick, which presents some growth levers that industry professionals should be watching.
Digital mediums, especially social media, have pushed viewership of recipe videos into the billions, Selk said. This is inspiring a whole new generation of cooks who plan out their shopping trips.
“Thinking about that behavior change in preparation to shop and do the planning, I think has been fundamentally shifted by all of those new digital mediums,” Selk said.
Air fryers and pressure cookers also are speeding up at-home scratch cooking, which she thinks is here to stay.
John Beretta, group VP of meat and seafood for Albertsons Cos., also jumped on the topic of social and digital conversations. He said recipe hunting is big at the moment.
“It’s important for us as retailers to bring that to life with our platforms where we can be online,” said Beretta, adding that they can also use technology to feed shoppers ideas and suggestions while they’re in the store.
Food prep also offers an opportunity for retail.
“Mom or dad are upstairs in the office, and they’re thinking about dinner … they’re back home early, they didn’t have to commute home,” Beretta said. “And so, they get to share in the experience of that preparation. So it’s creating a lot of family and family is sticky. Family creates behavior.”
Convenience is another factor when considering consumer products. As children return to schools, it will be key for parents.
“I think we can accomplish that at retail by providing semi-prepared meals,” Selk said. “I think about the sous chef idea, where it’s maybe not completely from scratch, but it’s almost partially put together. So you can get that meal on the table faster.”
She and Beretta mentioned refrigerated meals should be taken into consideration as well.
“Protein that we can bring to value and whether it’s packaging that can go right in the oven, or it’s packaging that can go right in the microwave,” he said. “…Bringing that product that helps that it’s identifiable to be able to utilize within these tools, but knowing that it’s there for them and just being that one step closer to getting it to the table.”
Turning to the future, companies keep trying to connect with Millennials and Gen Z.
“I think we really have to pay attention to more of the holistic mindset of these younger generations, who are concerned about local sort of social activities, the environment, just doing good in the world…this younger generation is very vocal at it,” Selk said. “So how do we shift little by little as an industry, so we can meet them where they’re at, when they become the bigger part of the bell curve. And then to our loyal consumers, right? We don’t want to shift a whole lot – we want to maintain those core values.”
Companies that are making claims on products need to know they better be able to back them up, Thamodaran said. To Selk’s point, the younger generations are vocal and they have platforms on social media to amplify their voices.
“This is a watchdog group,” Thamodaran said with a chuckle.