The natural meat market

Retailers that highlight the attributes of their meat case offerings can boost sales of these premium products.

Today’s meat case is flooded with better-for-you options and labeled with a slew of terms that many consumers are unfamiliar. Grass-fed, grain-finished, humane certified, Angus, all-natural, organic and hormone- and antibiotic-free to name a few. These are just some of the terms and attributes consumers can find in their local meat case.

burgerWhile many consumers have taken it upon themselves to stay educated about healthy and sustainable beef choices, and the various terms associated with them, retailers still need to make the effort to attract and educate consumers that are not quite there, say industry observers.

Trevor Amen, director of market intelligence for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA), the contractor to the Beef Checkoff program, based in Centennial, Colo., says natural and organic beef currently comprise about 2.7% of the total beef volume sold in retail, which is in line with previous years. Dollar sales of natural and organic beef are up 1.4% compared to total beef dollar sales.

Observers add that as consumer awareness continues to increase, those numbers should begin to increase as well.

“The most important thing is to communicate a product’s attributes to the consumer,” says Chris Anderson, director of marketing for Meyer Natural Foods, based in Loveland, Colo. “Beef is a commodity in the retail world. It’s something that is not heavily differentiated between other products in the meat case and between retailers. With our products, we’re offering a unique set of attributes and benefits to the consumer and that really needs to be communicated.”

Point-of-sale signage, adequate displays and the ability to tell the right story behind the product to consumers are important, says Anderson. “We need the retailer to support us in that activity. It’s really something that we aren’t able to do without the retailer buy-in. The retailers that understand the importance of communication with the consumer are the ones who do the best with their natural beef programs.”

Officials at Tyson Fresh Meats believe in keeping products’ attributes and call-outs simple. The Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based subsidiary of Tyson Foods emphasizes that its products come from animals that are not given hormones or antibiotics, and receive a 100% vegetarian diet throughout their lifetime.

“At Tyson Fresh Meats, we believe that an in-store merchandising effort with signage, and materials shoppers can pick up is key to building a successful natural meat program,” says Kent Harrison, vice president of marketing and premium programs. “Along with using the circular to tell the story and attributes of the product, and emphasizing the brand’s website as a reference point for the consumer, these efforts should be backed by Tyson’s three essential call-outs: ‘No hormones. No antibiotics. 100% vegetarian fed.”’

It becomes important to highlight these attributes as consumers are becoming more and more aware of and concerned with not only how animals are raised, but also the health benefits associated with natural and organic products and the environmental responsibilty a company shows.

“We have seen the demand for natural meat options outgrow the niche market and become very mainstream,” says Neil Dudley, vice president of Pederson’s Natural Farms. The Hamilton, Texas-based company is a Certified Humane purveyor of all natural meats, including bacon, ham and sausage.

As natural and organic products continue to gain favor with consumers, more products appear in retailers’ meat cases. The competition within the meat case amongst producers is significant and many are working hard to set themselves apart from the herd.

For example, Laura’s Lean Beef, Meyer’s primary consumer brand, is marketed as having less than 10 grams of fat per serving of antibiotic- and hormone-free beef. Meyer’s supports the brand with national print advertising in consumer health and wellness magazines, promotions at the store-level via sweepstakes, QR codes on packages and instant redeemable coupons.

Tyson’s Harrison says that when they launch its Open Prairie Natural Angus branded program in a new store, they make sure the retailer has a complete understanding of the product, its availability, protocols and quality. The company provides retailers with access to various point-of-sale materials, which include counter dividers, labels, price signage, rail strips and posters that they can use to advertise the product.

Private product
Most natural beef is produced to fit into specific branded beef programs, and therefore, the owner of the brand sets the requirements and is responsible for regulating compliance. Over a dozen natural beef programs are in existence, each with its own set of production requirements. Beyond brands, private label offerings take up a decent amount of space in the meat case as well.

“There is room for both brand names and store cuts in the meat case. We believe that the natural and organic industries need to offer consumers both options in order to push the category forward,” says Cody Lane, president of Pederson’s. “The store cuts are typically merchandised at a lower retail and serve as a gateway to branded items. However, when consumers are looking for more variety, consistency and an identity with which to connect or hold accountable, they tend to turn to brand names. Both serve a significant purpose.”

The NCBA’s Amen says retailers should continue to offer a variety in the meat case. “Customers say great product selection is one of the most important factors for selecting a store and it’s those that offer a choice to shoppers who’ll benefit where it matters most—the bottom line,” he says. Amen also says that retailers look to industry research and sales data to benchmark how a popular product is performing and to understand the needs of their shoppers.

Retailers must address the needs and preferences of shoppers in order to capitalize on growth opportunities in the natural meat category, say observers. The Beef Checkoff is a producer-funded marketing and research program that features a dedicated account development team that works with retailers to implement marketing programs designed to build beef demand. The Beef Checkoff program offers training programs like Beef Training Camp and research to arm meat department staff with the knowledge to be a go-to source for the customers. “We also provide educational materials and merchandising solutions they can promote and share with shoppers,” Amen adds.

“Depending on taste, lifestyle and budget, today’s consumers can find an assortment of beef products in their local meat case such as grain-finished, grass-finished, natural and certified organic as well as several different grades and aging options. While each kind of beef offers something different to the consumer, all U.S. beef, regardless of type, shares the same popular characteristics that put it at the center of the plate.”

Bringing up the beef
Meyer Natural Angus recently invited Grocery Headquarters to its corporate ranch in Helmville, Mont. During the visit, company officials offered expertise on the philosophy and methodology behind their humane certified, natural Angus beef.

Bob Meyer, owner, founded Meyer Natural Angus in 1990 with a vision to consistently provide high-quality beef with a commitment to environmentally sound practices, humane animal treatment and personal integrity, raising cattle for the best eating experience possible.

“The ranch serves several purposes beyond simply raising cattle,” said Chris Anderson, Meyer’s director of marketing. “It is where the company develops much of the animal husbandry protocols that we built into the program with our partner producers.”
Customers, vendors and retailers are regularly invited to the ranch to be educated about the life of the animal, not just the product in the case, and how best to market the finished product to consumers. “It’s a great place for our company to conduct business and build relationships,” added Anderson.

Since 2007, Meyer has acquired Laura’s Lean Beef, Coleman Natural Beef, Dakota Organic Beef and Premium Natural Beef. Meyer Natural Foods, based in Loveland, Colo., was formed in 2010 to combine the resources and expertise across all brands into one operating company.

In July, Meyer Natural Foods created the Humanely Handled Program to establish common sense standards that reflect its strict guidelines and are transparent to consumers and those within the foodservice and grocery retail industries.

The program focuses on all aspects of the production and development process from traceability, cattle housing and transportation to environmental protection, disbudding and castration. Meyer’s Humanely Handled Program places the utmost emphasis on transparency and integrity, requiring third party validation, company officials say. The Program is also a USDA FSIS-approved Third Party Certified Process.

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