Fresh Food

How Retailers Can Make Fresh Protein Sizzle This Summer

Peak grilling season finds grocers getting creative in their meat and seafood departments
Photos courtesy of iStock

When the weather heats up, folks are fired up about taking off the grill covers for the foreseeable future as they abandon their stoves and take their cooking outdoors. 

Summer is peak grilling season, which provides retailers with opportunities to make their fresh meat and seafood selections shine with impactful seasonal displays, cross-merchandising and other devices to inspire shoppers to take their cooking outdoors.

West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, for example, is working to become a summer griller’s best friend with promotions and entire meal solutions geared toward backyard barbecues. And there’s no better time than now to promote grilling-related fare, says VP of Meat and Seafood Jason Pride, who adds his customers are grilling more than ever. Pride continues to see growth across all protein types, including beef, pork, turkey, chicken and veggie-based meats, “but especially burgers.”

Ready-to-Grill Is Ready to Rock

With burgers at the forefront of shoppers’ grilling needs, Pride says consumers are open to exploring different infused-flavor combinations in ready-to-grill burger options, and seasonings in general, especially those that are made locally. He also says prime beef and thicker-cut steaks are popular as “people are willing to splurge to prepare these at home, knowing how much they can save compared with going to a steakhouse.”

To help shoppers get their grill on, Hy-Vee is enhancing its fresh protein offerings with entire meal solutions available in its grilling displays that include a protein as well as an option for a grillable side dish. Price says ribs and seasoned chicken and pork chops also continue to be a ready-to grill favorite, and “those displays will be abundant throughout the summer.”

“People want to provide full meals cooked entirely on the grill, including the sides, such as corn on the cob and bacon-wrapped asparagus,” he says. “In addition to grilling, smoking meat is widely popular. The finished product creates a great sense of accomplishment and pride, and those customers who smoke meat always love to experiment with different rubs, seasonings and wood flavors.”

Connecting With Customers

Offering an extensive ready-to-grill section is not the only way Hy-Vee is helping its customers throw the best barbecues. Chefs and meat specialists are available in-store to help customers explore the different proteins and cuts available, and are also eager to discuss subjects such as alternatives to traditional burgers and brats; kebabs and other skewer options; and Hy-Vee’s proprietary line of chicken grillers—tenderized, boneless chicken breasts stuffed with cheese and other ingredients and wrapped in bacon.

This type of face-to-face customer interaction is extremely important in running a successful meat department, says Emilie Doron, marketing manager for Meyer Natural Foods.

“Ensuring retailers understand and can clearly talk about and answer questions about the products they provide in the meat department is crucial,” she says. “Meat department employees are on the front lines when it comes to consumer education about products; they can impact purchases based on the information they share.”

Doron says in-person interactions are on the decline as consumers continue to demand quicker and easier methods of shopping and move toward e-commerce options. Accordingly, retailers must be ready to build on those relationships by developing brand loyalty through “top-notch service and product education you can’t get anywhere else.”

Smokey Samples

Hy-Vee promotes its fresh options even further through its weekend sampling events, which Pride says “help boost customer confidence when it comes to preparing meals at home.”

Hy-Vee was already getting a jump on the grilling season in April by dedicating an entire in-store sampling event to grilling. The retailer also offers its customers an online grilling guide, which contains a variety of tips and recipes.

Seafood Graces the Grill

charred sugar crusted

In addition to the usual burgers and ribs, seafood is having its day as an outdoor cookout star. Retailers can take advantage of this trend by making sure their seafood sections are well-stocked with the most popular grillable seafoods and promoting them accordingly.

While seafood sales have remained somewhat flat, market research firm Nielsen reports nearly 20% of consumers say they want to add more fish to their diet, and that certain fresh seafood options are gaining headway and significantly outpacing both dollar and volume sales vs. a year ago.

“Salmon, tuna, swordfish, shrimp, and other responsibly sourced seafood offerings are perfect for the grill, and many customers prefer it prepared outside,” Pride says.

Salmon Sales Soar

This year’s abundant sockeye salmon harvest means the popular protein will be a hot ticket seafood item this summer, says Victoria Parr, domestic marketing director for the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI).

“The timing couldn’t be better with retro recipe trends like salmon patties that ‘grandma used to make’ bubbling up from America’s southern cooking traditions,” says Parr. To that end, ASMI will also promote fresh Alaska salmon this summer by offering retailers easy-to-execute tools such as shelf strips, danglers and other POS material that inform shoppers of the “Alaska story.”

Parr says retailers have found success through these summer Alaska salmon promotions. Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets, for example, “made a big impact with customers through a series of fresh Alaska sockeye salmon promotions” last summer, she says. The promotion included 3,700 in-store demos featuring Alaska sockeye salmon, with wine and seafood tastings, a chef-led cooking class in August and $2 instant-redeem coupons.

Getting Crabby

In addition to fresh salmon hitting grocery aisles, crab season is also upon us, with soft-shell crab being a hot option among shoppers.

Chris Owens—director of domestic sales and sourcing at Crisfield, Md.-based Handy Seafood, which processes live, chilled-dressed, frozen and breaded soft-shell crabs and distributes them to markets and restaurants across the nation—says soft-shell crabs are desirable because they have all of the flavor of hard crabs without the hassle of picking apart shells. “Basically, the crab has done all the work for you,” says Owens.

‘Painting the Store Sustainable’

Parr says sustainability will continue to be an important attribute to promote during the summer of 2018, and that “retailers should consider ‘painting’ the store sustainable.” ASMI’s retail partners across the U.S. and Canada have seen “remarkable results when the faces and places of proud fisherman and the pristine environment of Alaska start at the front door and lead shoppers through the store to the frozen bunker, canned shelf or fresh seafood case,” she says.

Sales of seafood with sustainability claims increased 3% over the past year, according to Nielsen. Sales of seafood with Marine Stewardship Council labeling grew 27%, while sales of seafood with a sustainable fishing labeling grew 30%.

Fishing for Meal Kits

Nielsen officials suggested in a summary of their recent seafood findings that retailers have an additional opportunity to boost growth in the seafood sections by “borrowing on some recent successes in other realms of the fresh departments, such as the deli-prepared area.”

“Notably, when food is partially or fully prepared, busy consumers have access to quick, healthy options that also remove the guessing game when it comes to food preparation,” according to Nielsen analysts. “As a result, we’re seeing strong growth in seafood offerings that are either partially or fully prepared.”

Nielsen points out the impact of meal kits on today’s market, with in-store meal kit sales hitting $154.6 million last year. In light of the finding that 29% of meal kit users says they eat more seafood with meal kits, retailers could easily add seafood to the arsenal of meal kit proteins, according to the research company.

Parr says retailers can also benefit from paying attention to what some of the most popular meal kit services are offering.

“Meal kits are doing us a big favor by teaching people how to cook seafood,” she says. “Brick-and-mortar stores could take an ‘As Seen on TV’ approach, merchandising all the ingredients together to re-create the meals offered by the most popular kits in their areas.”

Additionally, retailers can break down the barrier between digital and brick-and-mortar by promoting online resources in-store. For example, ASMI partnered with popular recipe websites Serious Eats and Simply Recipes to curate recipe collections for Amazon Prime, and Parr says stores that are plugged into these sites could set up displays that cross-merchandise the ingredients needed to create these recipes right in the seafood department.

 Tops Talks Beef

Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Friendly Markets is partnering with the New York Beef Council to help educate dietitians and a wide range of other audiences about the benefits of beef.

As part of the program, the New York Beef Council conducts sessions with 10-20 participants from organizations such as the Genesee Dietetic Association, the CNY Dietetic Association, and CNY Family & Consumer Science.

The training programs, which take place several times a year, focus on providing the public with meal solutions. Participants are taught to analyze the health needs of individuals—with problems ranging from heart-healthy eating and weight loss to cooking for a busy family—and determine which cuts of beef would best meet their needs.

Tops Meat Manager Lisa Goodnow of the Baldwinsville, N.Y., store attended a recent training session and fielded questions from the group on cuts of meat and varieties that Tops carries.

The program also covers the 10 nutrients found in beef and the importance of each one to different age groups, and reviews purchasing and food safety tips. Participants learn about popular cuts of beef through the seasons, such as winter cooking or summer grilling, and discuss the meaning behind grass-fed and organic labels.

“Tops has been working closely with the New York Beef Council for over a decade,” said Jim Lane, director of meat and seafood for the retailer, in a news release. “Our work together has included not only these educational sessions for area dietitians, but also meat manager certification classes and meat manager meetings where alternative meat cutting techniques were demonstrated. We’re pleased to work in partnership with the Beef Council as together we provide valuable informational programs to not only our associates, but to the community at large.”



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