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Fresh Food

Education Sparks Sales of Premium Proteins

Quality-conscious consumers driving growth of fresh meat, poultry
Photograph: Shutterstock

When it comes to fresh proteins, the more shoppers know, the more they buy. Elevating consumer confidence is especially critical to driving sales in the premium space, where shoppers need to understand the price-quality relationship before they make a purchase.

With this in mind, the industry is enhancing its efforts to educate consumers through multiple channels, including in-store, digital and circulars—reaching shoppers where they are, and the moment they seek answers.

It’s the idea behind Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner’s new virtual assistance tool launching next month. Funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, Chuck Knows Beefis an expert guide powered by Google AI and designed to educate consumers and grocery butchers on everything from cuts and grades to nutrition and preparation techniques.

“Shoppers tend to purchase just a handful of cuts with which they’re comfortable,” says Bridget Wasser, executive director of meat science and technology for Centennial, Colo.-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program.

Eighty-three percent of shoppers purchase only a couple of meat cuts and kinds, while 42% said they would branch out if advised, according to The Power of Meat 2018 report, which was published by Food Marketing Institute and the Foundation for Meat & Poultry Research & Education, with the support of Sealed Air’s Food Care Division.

And as grocers move butchering and fabrication off-site, consumers can be left with more questions than answers, Wasser says. Based on web traffic, the NCBA finds that consumers are searching for recipes most of all. With the Chuck assistant, consumers can select recipes from beefitswhatsfordinner.com, and Chuck will send a list of necessary ingredients directly to their phones.

“This results in a seamless shopping experience that can help raise overall cart price,” says Wasser. “It’s also an opportunity to get in front of the shopper, as a lot of times they don’t have the patience to wait at the meat counter.”

Users can access Chuck in-store via their mobile phone or at home through a smart speaker such as Alexa. Initially equipped with the answers to the most common Google searches on meat, Chuck gets smarter over time as consumers continually ask questions. He also features a recipe box function that allows users to revisit their favorites.

“We’re confident that Chuck also has big value to retailers, whether full-service or no service,” says Jason Jerome, senior director of retail engagement for NCBA. “While it’s designed to build consumer confidence, it can also be used for staff training in the meat department.”

Additionally, Jerome envisions in-store digital tabletop displays, where shoppers can access Chuck at a self-serve case. The NCBA will demo Chuck Knows Beef at the Annual Meat Conference in March in Dallas.

Central Market’s Recipe for Success

As the founder and CEO of Kearney, Mo.-based Premier Proteins, which has specialized in superpremium and ultrapremium all-natural, humanely raised wagyu beef, grass-fed beef and Berkshire pork for nearly two decades, Tim Haas has ample insight into selling premium fresh proteins at grocery retail. “There are retailers who sell wine for $500 a bottle and olive oil for $300 a bottle, but they don’t think they can sell a steak for $40 a pound,” he says.

premier protein steaks
Photograph courtesy of Premier Proteins

Haas has identified five keys to premium meat and pork category success at grocery:

  1. Strategic store location (luxury car dealerships in town are a good indication).
  2. Product support through a sampling program.
  3. Offer a variety of different price points.
  4. Focus on Thursday to Sunday promotion.
  5. Provide brief, but compelling, product descriptions via in-store signage, circulars and online.

Dallas-based Central Market has found success with premium proteins through a similar strategic approach. Its website and weekly circulars feature a range of fresh meat products at different price points from Wagyu Beef Whole Tenderloin Roast for $49.99 per pound to USDA Prime Natural Angus Beef Chateaubriand for $34.99 per pound and USDA Choice Natural Angus Beef Standing Rib Roast for $13.99 per pound.

Its product descriptions are also relevant and concise, such as “Group-Raised, Milk-Fed Veal Loin Chops: Compassionately raised in groups and 100% tether-free” and “Lamb Loin Chops fresh from Rocky Mountain pastures and raised without added hormones or antibiotics.”

Central Market supports its meat program with in-store sampling. “That helps a lot, because once the consumer tries it, they understand it’s a special product,” says Haas.

Haas also recommends sampling that showcases a product’s versatility and affordability, such as quick-cooking wagyu flank steaks for tacos. The easy-to-prepare meat is comparably priced to brisket, which takes 12 to 13 hours to cook.

Grocers who take a weekend-warrior approach to premium proteins also stand to gain. Stock your highest-end premium proteins Thursday through Sunday when shoppers are entertaining and treating themselves, says Haas: “That’s the main purchase time. You don’t want to put your most expensive wagyu tenderloin out on a Tuesday.”

Plan Ahead

About half of today’s premium-protein consumers plan their purchase ahead of their shopping trip and use local grocery store apps either often or frequently in their purchasing decisions. These trends are dramatically influencing how grocers and producers connect with shoppers. “For today’s premium consumer, digital support, in addition to traditional point-of-sale materials, is becoming increasingly important,” says Kent Harrison, VP of marketing and premium programs for Tyson Fresh Meats in Dakota Dunes, S.D.

Midan Marketing in Chicago, which conducted custom research in 2018 to identify the target market for Tyson Fresh Chairman’s Reserve Premium Meats, discovered the power of digital when courting this consumer.

The research revealed the key consumer of Chairman’s Reserve Premium Meats plans their purchases prior to entering the store, with about 50% of the sample saying that they not only plan their purchase ahead of their shopping trip but that they also plan which cuts they are going to buy before entering the store.

What’s more, nearly 50% of those surveyed also indicated that they use local grocery store apps either often or frequently. “[This] again indicates the importance of connecting with these consumers in their digital world, and providing information at their fingertips to help them make a smart choice in the meat aisle,” says Harrison.

CV’s Family Foods based in Van Buren, Ark., carries Chairman’s Reserve Premium Beef and Pork. The grocer advertises digitally and in printed placements, as well as in-store promotions.

Versatile Veal and Lamb

“While the veal and lamb segment of the meat case is small compared to chicken and beef (per capita consumption is less than 1%), retailers want that shopper who comes into the store looking for quality veal and lamb products,” says Anthony Catelli, president and CEO of Catelli Brothers Inc., Collingswood, N.J. “Lamb and veal appeal to higher-income foodies, and they’re looking for a one-stop shop for higher-quality milk-fed veal and grass-fed lamb.”

catelli brothers veal lamb
Photograph courtesy of Catelli Brothers Inc.

Offering a range of more than 600 veal and lamb products, including preweighed, preportioned and prepriced packaged items, Catelli’s case-ready products offer efficient store labor management and out-of-stock reductions. “We also have to make products that are quick to cook,” says Catelli. “As a result, we do most of the cutting.”

Catelli Brothers recently revamped the packaging on its group-raised, untethered, all-natural veal and grass-fed and antibiotic-free lamb products to reflect the quality of the meat.

Among millennial shoppers, Catelli sees growing interest in the lamb category, particularly in antibiotic-free, grass-fed and no-hormones-added products. But while this younger generation enjoys experimenting with meats such as veal and lamb, they aren’t always sure how to prepare it at home. Catelli’s new packaging calls out its website, which offers recipes and simple, step-by-step cooking instructions. Most of the packaging also includes images of finished cooked products to entice shoppers to buy.

Veal and lamb grinds and blends for meatloaf and meatballs is a less expensive entry point for these younger consumers, says Catelli. Lamb burgers are increasingly popular, for example, and offer tremendous versatility.

Transparency Drives the Buy

“Transparency is one of the top purchase drivers, as consumers now require more information about where their food comes from,” says Jennifer Moyer Murphy, executive chef for Clemens Food Group, a Hatfield, Pa.-based family-owned business that provides quality pork products.

Clemens is actively involved in two animal welfare platforms: Pork With a Pledge (PWAP), which promises no hormones, steroids or growth promotants, as well as gestation crate-free by 2022; and Farm Promise, a no-antibiotics-ever and vegetarian-fed program. In addition to its websites (porkwithapledge.com and farmpromise.com), Clemens offers retailer and consumer education through point-of-sale and social media.

At retail, Clemens sees the value of conveying transparency and animal welfare. One retail partner that reset its fresh pork case to feature Pork With a Pledge POS has seen an increase in fresh pork sales since its implementation last year, says Murphy. “They are outperforming all other competitive retailers in their market area, as well as the Northeast. Fresh pork is struggling across the board; however, where we have a Hatfield PWAP program, we have been able to stem some of the declines and help reverse the trends in fresh pork for our retail partners,” she adds.

A Shift in Pork Consumption

Another bright spot in fresh pork has been the migration from random weight to net weight (fixed weight) offerings, says Murphy: “Net weight products offer consumers a consistent shelf price and remove labor from the retailer as the meat managers no longer have to weigh and price each item.”

Convenience is also critical to increasing sales of fresh pork. “Consumers' eating habits have changed, and the more traditional center-of-the-plate pork cuts (e.g., chops and ribs) have struggled from the evolution,” says Murphy.

While fresh pork chops, ribs, roasts and loins still command the lion’s share of fresh pork dollar sales, Clemens sees a shift away from these cuts that require more preparation in favor of cuts such as boneless roasts and ground pork that offer greater versatility and faster cook times. These cuts also lend themselves to smoker, Instant Pot and slow cooker usage.

Consumer studies have shown that lack of preparation knowledge is a top barrier to pork consumption. As part of its “education and inspiration” efforts, Clemens offers on-package usage stickers that make suggestions such as “Great for Slow Cookers” or “Great for Tacos.” It also works with grocers to share recipe assets in-store, through social media and retailer websites.

“The retailers who are seeing success in fresh sales are those dedicating resources to pork products, and making educational and inspirational materials readily available for their consumers to feel confident about their purchase,” Murphy says.

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