Meat and seafood are indispensable ingredients when it comes to driving traffic to a store. Consumers are not likely to buy their favorite cut of steak online, and they still rely heavily on their local grocery store to provide them with their fresh meat and seafood needs. These sections thrive on not only variety and consistency, but also visual appeal and innovation.
Meat is the top reason for store choice, according to the latest consumer research from the Food Marketing Institute, which revealed that retailers who are seen by consumers as “meat experts” can double overall sales per customer on relevant purchase occasions.
The high-volume selling power of fresh meat and seafood has inspired many retailers to get creative with their meat departments, stocking premium, better-for-you and on-trend items that keep their meat case fresh and relevant, along with applying innovative ideas to add value and excitement to the section.
Meat and Seafood 2.0
Case in point: Encino, Calif.-based Gelson’s Markets is adding a grilling station to one of its stores. The feature will allow customers to select any meat or seafood item from the case and have experts grill it on-site, with their choice of dry rub or liquid marinade.
Gelson’s also added a seafood bar to one of its stores, which Sean Saenz, senior director of meat and seafood operations, says is one of the biggest innovative next steps for the 28-store regional retailer. Customers can sit down and order items such as seafood chowder, steamed lobster and ahi tuna poke, which helps Gelson’s showcase its high-quality seafood selection. More evidence of its continued fresh innovation: Gelson’s has also installed a next-generation, build-your-own poke bowl station with steamed brown or white rice, 10 seafood salads and upwards of 15 toppings and sauces to choose from.
Beers, Brats and Co-Branding
Another example of a retailer focusing on meat and seafood innovation is Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash, which recently renovated the meat department in its Forest Hills Foods store, where it tests out new concepts and services, to accommodate more signature items. The meat department now features more than 20 fresh, store-made varieties of sausages and hot dogs and offers a large selection of organic, natural and grass-fed options, as well as an expanded seafood department with just-caught fish flown in six days per week.
Additionally, the retailer has partnered with a craft brewery to co-brand three flavors of Open Acres premium craft beer brats. Two of the flavors are Open Acres mainstays, with others rotated in on a seasonal basis.
Health Takes Hold
Larry Pierce, EVP of merchandising and marketing for SpartanNash, says beef continues to be the main sales driver for the company’s retail stores and independent customers. However, there has also been an increase in the popularity of its service counters as consumers continue to gain interest in value-added, niche and specialty items.
On the other hand, Saenz says he has noticed that as customers seek healthier and leaner options, the cuts of meat that used to be go-tos, such as grilling steaks, have been partially replaced by poultry and seafood. He believes the biggest trends on the market today are the growth of organic poultry—which is one of Gelsons’ highest growth items in fresh meat—and seafood salads, specifically poke.
Saenz advises that while following these trends is important, having a constant standard for quality is one of the most important factors in the success of a meat case. “What still holds strong is [that] the customer primarily builds their baskets around the meat or protein item,” he says. “The most important component in the customer choice for our store is consistency, in both product quality and availability. If I sell you the best eating rib-eye steak that you have ever had, but it’s not available or is not the same quality next week, that is a major issue for shoppers.”
A Better-For-You Boom
Pierce says he has also noticed an increase in demand for Living Well health-focused items, and SpartanNash has worked to meet this need by carving out a section within the meat case that features grass-fed beef, organic poultry and antibiotic-free pork. Indeed, better-for-you items have a strong hold on the minds, and wallets, of consumers. According to 2017 Power of Meat research, four in 10 consumers are interested in expanded product offerings that are hormone-free and antibiotic-free.
“Once shoppers find that product, they are loyal to both the brand and overall store,” says Kent Harrison, VP of fresh meats marketing and premium programs at Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson. “One of the main messages to retailers would be to make sure that the products they carry are clearly labeled and call out these claims specifically. According to our proprietary consumer research, 41% of consumers looking for meat free from antibiotics and hormones agree that these callouts on the label will entice purchase.”
Words such as “natural,” “organic” and “free from” are taking the grocery store by storm, but another phrase gaining power in the meat section is “grass-fed.” According to a 2017 study by Kantar Millward Brown, consumers tend to trust and believe in the grass-fed claim and reject the idea that it is a marketing gimmick. The study showed that 88% of grass-fed beef shoppers consider imported beef, and don’t see a quality difference between local and imported because the other qualities associated with grass-fed are more important than country of origin.
“This is especially relevant because shoppers are increasingly concerned about meat and their health, and [think] that cutting back on meat consumption would be good for them,” says Catherine Golding, business development manager for True Aussie Beef & Lamb. “Grass-fed is perceived by consumers as better for the animals, better quality, natural and flavorful. These are all things that can keep beef in the cart. We’ve seen retailers all over the country capitalize on the interest in grass-fed and experience a lot of success.”
On the Lamb (and Duck)
As consumers become more well-traveled and adventurous, they are more willing to branch out and try nontraditional proteins outside of their usual comfort zone. The Kantar study shows lamb trial is up 10% year over year, even though it’s relatively unfamiliar to the general public.
Another nontraditional protein making its way into consumers’ kitchens is duck, which Cindy Turk—director of marketing for the duck division at Leesburg, Ind.-based Maple Leaf Farms—says retailers can feature in the self-serve meat case in fresh cases so that when consumers are deciding what’s for dinner, the protein is front and center. Retailers can also help warm consumers up to the concept by demystifying duck to their shopper base.
“From demos to signage, it’s all about helping consumers discover duck,” Turk says. “Instant redeemable coupons have been successful in-store, coupled with signage to assist shoppers in locating duck products. Gaining attention and trial is the primary objective for every retail partner.”
Bring On the ‘Hog Wild’ Promos
Retailers can further promote their meat sections with seasonal events and promotions that get consumers excited about grilling up a steak or roasting a chicken. For instance, Gelson’s runs customer sweepstakes for high-ticket items such as prime rib around the Christmas season, and offers coupons for items such as turkey during Thanksgiving.
Weekly promotions are another way to get meat off the shelves. For example, SpartanNash has seen success with its “hog wild” events, in which a variety of pork is featured in the retailer’s weekly ads at its Family Fare and D&W Fresh Markets banners. The pork items are then displayed together in an endcap to drive additional sales.