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Fresh Food

Taking Meat Behind Departmental Lines

Trends suggest the industry rethink their approach to meat, just as consumers are
Photograph courtesy of Tyson

Transparency, health and omnichannel experiences were among the main themes governing the showroom floor at the North American Meat Institute’s (NAMI) 2019 Annual Meat Conference in early March. Located at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas and gathering more than 100 exhibiting companies and 400 meat and poultry retail buyers—including those from Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons Cos., The Kroger Co. and H-E-B, among others—the annual confab offers a prime opportunity to showcase new products and technology designed to inspire sales, meet consumer demands and drive overall growth for the all-important meat category.

The show featured a number of educational experiences—the highlight of which was the Power of Meat 2019 presentation, exploring the financial prowess of the $67 billion category and meat’s overall role in supporting a food retailer’s reputation. Unlike past years—which broke down in-store behaviors, customer service, packaging and education—the 14th installation of the annual report by 210 Analytics, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and NAMI’s Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education takes a more consumer-focused approach, delving into topics such as: flexitarian and plant-based eating; shifts in channel purchasing choices; consumers’ perception of animal welfare; and health and well-being strategies.

“We decided to take a break from the usual more operationally focused trend lines,” Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at San Antonio, Texas-based 210 Analytics, told WGB. “Instead, the report seeks to understand how meat and poultry fit into the changing food culture, the way America eats, shops and lives.”

With 98.9% household penetration, the report outlines that the category’s growth relies not on attracting more buyers but on finding ways to expand consumers’ consumption frequency, which would translate into a greater buying frequency and basket size. In 2018, households spent an average of $391 on meat over an average of 29.6 trips. As such, retailers have an opportunity to drive consumer engagement across different cuts, species and types of meat, such as value-added or fully cooked, whether in the meat department or any other place in the store.

Align With the Meal Occasion 

Similar to how this year’s study broke from trend lines, its findings revealed a need for the industry to break from departmental lines. Traditionally, the Power of Meat had always focused in on the meat department, but this year the study examined behavior across all areas of the store that sell meat, including frozen, deli and center store.

While the meat case remains the most common destination, used by 79% of shoppers, many buy meat and poultry across the full continuum. As shoppers increasingly purchase meat across the store—from the meat case to the frozen aisle to the deli—the analysis suggests that retailers and suppliers should align their thinking with the shopper who considers his or her meat purchase as a meal occasion rather than relegating to one area of the store. Across all departments, convenience-focused meat and poultry saw robust growth in 2018, including value-added (5.1%), fully cooked (2.5%) and frozen (2.2%).

The report urges retailers and suppliers to consider new ways to help shoppers plan multiple-meal meat purchases, as four in 10 shoppers currently buy meat or poultry for meals to cover several days; 35% buy more than they need to freeze and use over time; and 23%, particularly Gen Z and younger millennials, purchase meat and poultry for one meal at a time.

“This means it is important to rise above departmental lines and think from the occasion in, versus the department out to meet consumers’ varying need states,” says Roerink. “By thinking across all meat solutions and how they may fit together to create a week’s worth of meals, everyone wins.”

“Bundle” sales including BOGO options are a tried-and-true strategy for retailers to inspire shoppers to purchase multiple-meal meat purchases, as eight in 10 shoppers said sales and promotions can prompt them to purchase meat, according to the study. Kent Harrison, VP of marketing and premium programs at Tyson Fresh Meats, in Dakota Dunes, S.D., also notes that retailers and suppliers can utilize social media platforms to offer meal plan suggestions that appeal to a number of meal occasions.

“By reminding consumers that they could take care of their lunch and dinner meals for a week by purchasing a variety of meat options,” says Harrison, “along with providing recipes, we could encourage them to purchase more meat at a time.”

Embracing Digital Transformation 

Additional highlights from the Power of Meat 2019 include the shift to in-store promotional signage as the top platform for discovering meat and poultry sales. After a 13-year run, the printed circular read pre-trip is no longer the most frequently used promotional platform, suggesting a need for considering creative new ways of engaging the meat shopper. Digital, social and mobile platforms are growing, including a digital version of the traditional circular (up 38%), in-store apps (up 24%) and social media deals (up 12%). According to the survey, while 52% of shoppers decide on what they’ll purchase in-store, 23% decide long before they arrive in the meat department.

“The trends point to opportunities for retailers and the suppliers to collaborate on ways to both educate and inspire our shoppers,” FMI’s VP of Fresh Foods Rick Stein explained when releasing this year’s meat study. “The onus is on us to turn the ordinary into extraordinary, as 74% of shoppers are looking for something as simple as flipping routine meals that they already know how to cook into a different culinary experience.”

To help answer consumers’ questions about beef cuts, recipes, nutrition and more, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, at the Annual Meat Conference showcased its new digital assistant tool called Chuck Knows Beef. Powered by Google Artificial Intelligence, the tool is designed to blend digital communications with in-store and at-home experiences, providing all the information found on the Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. website via computer, mobile phone, Amazon Alexa or Google Home Assistant.

“We were thrilled to introduce Chuck Knows Beef, our new digital assistance using artificial intelligence to help increase consumer knowledge of beef,” says Alisa Harrison, SVP of global marketing and research at NCBA, in Centennial, Colo. “By increasing shopper knowledge, shoppers will feel more confident picking out different beef cuts at the meat case, enabling them to plan for the week with a diverse set of meals centered around different cuts.”

Indeed, as consumers increasingly turn to digital communications for their grocery shopping needs, omnichannel experiences are becoming more prevalent and new technological innovations are now making it possible for retailers and suppliers to finally meet this consumer demand.

As noted during the Annual Meat Conference’s “Omnichannel to Enhance the Customer Experience,” session, Chris Baker and Bobby Gibbs from Oliver Wyman in New York discussed consumer trends, including how their “definition of online is becoming more ‘phygital’ and customers are happiest when they shop both online and offline” compared to shopping just one channel. With 30% of grocery sales estimated to come from online by 2030, according to Baker and Gibbs, retailers and suppliers are urged to “unleash the power of AI and machine learning” to enhance the customer experience and deliver integrated online and offline shopping experiences.

As such, Harrison believes the Chuck Knows Beef digital virtual assistant “gives consumers the knowledge to feel confident when purchasing beef both in-store and online.” By providing the tool to shoppers, retailers can enhance their omnichannel meat-purchasing experience by “sharing cut information to help shoppers navigate the meat case and inspiring home cooks with recipes and cooking lessons, with the option for shoppers to easily text a recipe’s ingredient list to their phones, driving sales throughout the store.”

The Power of Production Claims 

Transparency continues to play a major role in meat-purchasing decisions, with two-thirds of shoppers seeking “better-for-me” items and around three in 10 shoppers seeking products that are better for the environment, animals, farmers or workers, according to the Power of Meat 2019. The survey found that this group shows an above-average interest in their own health, environmental impact and animal welfare, with particular importance around production claims such as organic, grass-fed and antibiotic free.

In addition, the report notes a growing segment of consumers who identify as “flexitarian,” or a mostly plant-based diet with limited amounts of meat and poultry. While 86% of shoppers interviewed identified as meat-eaters, 10% of consumers self-defined as flexitarians. Among Generation Z, 13% eat a flexitarian diet versus 6% of Baby Boomers, and women (15%) are also more likely to be flexitarians than men (6%). What’s more, the survey found that flexitarians show an above-average interest in their own health, environmental impact and animal welfare.

“Making sure shoppers are aware of your assortment along with consumer-friendly explanations of the various production terms can be an important way to keep flexitarians engaged in meat,” says Roerink. “Highlighting benefits for the livestock, the environment and consumers’ health will be powerful messages to underscore the importance of meat in the diet.”

Meat and poultry items with production claims saw sales increase an above-average 4.8% over the last year, driven by grass-fed (12.2%) and organic (13.1%) items. The report found that shoppers tie many production attributes to not only having benefits for the animal but also their own health. Seven out of every 10 shoppers believe humanely raised, free-range, grass-fed and hormone free benefits the livestock, yet seven or more also believe hormone-free, all natural, antibiotic free, grass-fed sustainably raised and organic benefit the consumer’s own health.

The report also found that shoppers are open to blended alternatives such as beef and mushroom burgers as 63% said they would “maybe” or “definitely” purchase blended meat and plant items. By integrating plant-based items into the meat department, retailers have an opportunity to engage health-focused and flexitarian consumers and convert their purchases into a sell for meat and poultry items, as well.

“By focusing on assortment strategies that cater to the growing number of consumers seeking ‘better-for-me’ options, retailers need to consider increasing assortments of leaner cuts, blended and value-added meat items,” notes Kristy Welker, PR and communications director at Mighty Spark, based in Minneapolis. The company at the conference showcased its line of premium meats including blended chicken patties featuring plant-based ingredients. “Retailers can win with this consumer—specifically among women and millennials—by ensuring new items are merchandised where consumers are used to shopping for leaner proteins.”

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