Home » Self-Serve Vs. Full Service: How Consumers Choose Their Meat
Meat/Seafood/Poultry Southwest

Self-Serve Vs. Full Service: How Consumers Choose Their Meat


Meat continues to be one of the highest performing perimeter departments, according to Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of 210 Analytics. She presented the “Power of Meat 2023: An In-Depth Look At The Meat Department Through The Shoppers’ Eyes” during the Annual Meat Conference in Dallas, Texas. 

Meat is still a growing category despite pandemic- and inflation-related setbacks. The way consumers are choosing their meat continues to be dominated by self-serve cases, but full-service counters are seeing more interactions. 

According to the survey and written report compiled by 210 Analytics and FMI – The Food Industry Association, an estimated 75 percent of all meat purchases are made in the self-service case while “full-service counters remain the place for premium beef cuts to shine, address special requests and provide tips.”

Self-serve versus full-service

“Shoppers especially like the idea of meat department associates providing ideas on new recipes or new preparation methods using familiar cuts and kinds of meat and poultry,” the report reads. 

In her presentation, Roerink explained the growing trend of case-ready meat. In the beginning of the study in 2008, only “a handful of people” believed that case-ready meat was as good or better than meat prepared in the store. The number has continued to increase into 2023. This sentiment is reflected in the study’s 75 percent purchase estimate. This statistic also includes those who believe there is “little-to-no difference” in case-ready versus prepared meats.

However, the study’s statistics still show that 83 percent of meat shoppers’ primary stores include a full-service meat counter, though usage of the full-service counter tends to be “sporadic.” Only 72 percent of those shoppers reported that they utilize a butcher’s service.

Full-service tends to be utilized by specific demographics, according to the report. These demographics include: Boomers, “above-average at-home meal preparation,” specialty or organic centric shoppers, above-average consumption of value-added meat/poultry and high income shoppers. 

In her presentation, Reorink explored some of the positives and negatives of case-ready versus prepared meats.

“We, of course, know that with case-ready, we lose a little bit in terms of service…In reality we know that a very small percentage of total sales comes from the full-service counter.”

She then posed hypothetical questions: “How do we continue to engage with people? What are some of the situations?”

Special requests and occasions tend to be the driving forces behind the full-service meat counters. Time, desire, availability and occasion drive meat shoppers to the full-service counter. The full-service meat counter continues to be preferred when making premium selections, such as custom-cut steaks or roasts; asking for advice or meat inspiration; addressing special requisitions, including custom-made marinades, special occasions, selecting a specific preference or when wanting something cut. The counter also acts as a backup for when the prepared meat case does not have a certain cut.

Roerink explained meat preparation and recommendations have become a larger part of the meat department. Often, consumers will use the self-serve and meat department associates in tandem. 

“Shoppers are much more willing to act on meat department recommendations that take a familiar cut or kind of meat and poultry but suggest a different recipe or preparation method than trying something completely new,” she said.

The hybrid meal

No matter which counter consumers choose to get their meat, meal preparation at home continues to be popular. Consumers prepare between four and five dinners at home during a typical week. Eighty-seven percent of these dinners contain meat. The number of home-prepared dinners matches statistics reported in 2018, where 88 percent of meals were made at home and contained meat, the report states.

Regardless of age, region, ethnicity, gender or income, semi- and fully-prepared items are popular. They are represented in the majority of meals in either a lead or assistant role to items cooked from scratch. Forty-five percent of meals are made “mostly from scratch,” while 47 percent of meals include a mix of scratch and semi- and fully-prepared items. These items include things like premade salad kits or rotisserie chicken, according to Roerink.

Meal inspiration goes digital

Meal inspiration now comes from a wider range of sources than ever before. Friends, families and childhood traditions continue to be the biggest inspiration for meals, according to the report. Online videos are growing in popularity as how-to videos and viral recipes capture the younger zeitgeist. Roerink shared a video during her Power of Meat presentation where a woman stated, “I YouTube everything. Having the videos is so much easier than reading what to do.”

In fact, according to the study, YouTube is the fourth most popular source of meal inspiration, only getting beaten out by family/friends, routine meals I know how/tend to cook and websites devoted to recipes. YouTube is the most preferred form of meal inspiration for Gen Z and Millennials.

Comparing the same index from 2019, the only meal inspiration mediums that have increased are all digital. YouTube has increased from 24-28 percent, TikTok is preferred by 21 percent of respondents, Instagram has increased from 14-20 percent and grocery store apps have increased 11-17 percent. 

“The meat industry has a great opportunity to expand its recipe repertoire with a variety of meat and poultry products,” Roerink said. “The key to success is meeting consumers at their point of inspiration and translating inspiration into purchases for the brand or store. Creating brand awareness through digital channels, along with relevant advertising, are opportunities for meat visibility.”

To expound on the current shoppers’ online meal experience, Roerink shared another video where a respondent stated, “I follow several Pinterest boards, find a recipe I like, click add ingredient to your list, buy online and I’m cooking an hour later.”

Preparation methods

The stovetop and oven remain the top cooking appliances, but newer technologies, such as the air fryer and Instant Pot are making meals faster, sometimes healthier and in more convenient ways. Air fryers, multi-functioning cookers (instant pots) and sous vide heaters are becoming preferred preparation methods. 

But unlike digital recipes, these preparation alternatives are consistent amongst most age demographics. Stovetop and oven cooking still remain the first and second most popular cooking methods, according to the study. In comparing the 2019 and 2023 indexes, air fryer, slow cookers, grills, multi-functional cookers and sous vide heaters have grown exponentially. 

Air fryers have seen the largest increase, from 39-76 percent. Meanwhile, microwave – the third most used appliance – preparation has decreased 96-94 percent. There was also a 3 percent decrease in overall stovetop and oven preparation. 

“New appliances mean new cooking routines,” the study reads. “That provides the meat industry with an opportunity to be involved with new routines from the ground up. Search engine optimization along with a range of outreach across social media, on-pack cooking instructions, meat and meal-based merchandising and recipes may be a way to tie into market trends.”

Stovetop and oven will continue to be the dominant form of preparation, as they are the most common appliances in any kitchen. Grills and slow cookers are becoming ubiquitous while air fryers, multi-functioning appliances and sous vide cookers tend to be owned by Millennials, the study suggests.

To learn more about the Annual Meat Conference, visit meatconference.com.

For more meat news from The Shelby Report, click here.

About the author

Jack R. Jordan

Content Creator

Jordan joined The Shelby Report in May 2022 after over a year in the newspaper industry. A native of Marietta, Georgia, he studied writing and communications at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. He spends too much time in the grocery store trying to find recipe ingredients, so he looks forward to covering the industry.

Featured Photos

Featured Photo PLMA Annual Private Label Trade Show
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Chicago, Illinois
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap