The rising cost of meat has made it hard on retailers, but the holiday season presents an opportunity to generate sales.
It has been a tough year for the meat case.
Increased producer costs have forced higher retail prices. Add to that the seemingly never-ending economic flux, and many consumers are cutting back on how much they are willing to spend on center plate proteins.
Moms are replacing Thursday night’s steak with pasta and passing on Sunday roasts. As justifiable as this switch may be for a typical workweek, come holiday time family and friends will be disappointed if the dinner table does not feature some sort of meat.
While consumers are certainly willing to spend a little more in order to spread holiday cheer, they still want to have enough left over to put some nice things under the tree. To help reduce spending, many producers are offering smaller cuts in order to satisfy the need for meat without breaking consumer budgets.
“There is no doubt that people, they are not quite as cautious with price around the holiday’s as they are during other times of the year,” says Tony Catelli, president and CEO of Catelli Brothers, based in Collingswood, N.J. “But we are still seeing those high costs, that’s why we are trying to change the size. The price of a whole leg of lamb today would scare someone to death in the meat case. If we make it smaller, with bone-in or butterfly, we now make it much more affordable for people to put on the table.”
Call it the Turducken affect, but holiday meals have evolved beyond having just turkey, ham or a roast as the only protein on the table. Today, holiday meals consist of smaller, multiple protein dishes. This diversity around the holidays plays right into the Catelli Brothers offerings, which consists of veal and lamb.
“With people preparing multiple proteins we want to make sure we offer a variety of veal and lamb cuts that are going to be of interest to people,” says Catelli.
As consumers expand their holiday menus, traditional items are certainly not forgotten.
As the holiday season approaches the National Pork Board recently launched its Spend Less to Impress holiday campaign. According to Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, the campaign promotes loin roast and spiral hams as perfect centerpieces for holiday meals.
“During the holiday season, retailers should focus on making it easy for consumers to put an impressive holiday meal on the table for their guests,” says Fleming. “Having simple recipes available, as well as cross merchandising with other items in the store helps take some of the guess work out of holiday entertaining. We encourage retailers to remind their customers of the great value of pork, along with the simple preparation and easy elegance of pork roasts and spiral hams.”
In the beef section, industry observers say there is a great demand for standing rib roasts and tenderloin as well as other traditional family-type products. Chris Anderson, marketing director for Meyer Natural Foods, based in Loveland, Colo., says Meyer’s ground beef sales are pretty strong this time of year as well.
“Store traffic leading up to the holidays is high,” he says. “People may not necessarily be serving ground beef for the holidays but they are in the store at this time and making purchases to stock up on ground beef.”
It’s only natural
Some say since consumers’ mindset is open to spending a bit more; the holidays are a good time for retailers to promote natural and organic meat. With price-points generally 20% to 30% higher than similar commodity products, they can be a tough sell for consumers entering the natural and organic segment. There is opportunity, however, and Anderson says communication at the store level is where it starts.
“We do well with retail partners that are very dedicated to growing the natural and organic category and train their personnel accordingly,” he says. “Signage and the attributes communicated are incredibly important. We have to justify to our consumers why our products cost more. Natural and organic food and all the issues surrounding those types of products are becoming mainstream so we are finding a nice audience for it.”
Since the holidays are one of the most intensive meat eating times of the year, observers say it is a good time for retailers to better educate their shoppers on what constitutes organic and natural meat.
Simcha Weinstein, marketing director for Albert’s Organics, based in Bridgeport, Conn., says it is important that retailers intelligently, accurately, comfortably and confidently talk with their customers, providing them with information that can help shoppers make the best and most informed choices, when it comes to choosing a meat product.
“We have created a very powerful and effective tool, The Meat College, that many retailers take and use,” he says. “It covers all things retailing when it comes to organic and natural meats. It can be accessed at www.albertsorganics.com/education.”
Some of the pieces of information that Weinstein says retailers should know include what makes a meat product organic, natural or grass-fed, the differences and why these things are important.
Observers say that as consumers become more aware of these differences, they will be better able to figure out how, where and when to make meat purchases most effectively. While organic beef sales remain comparatively strong, some say sales are trending toward the natural side.
“The high cost of organic beef has paved the way for an increase in natural beef sales,” says Weinstein. “While certainly not organic, natural beef does provide a product that is free of hormones and antibiotics the big two that consumers fear most when purchasing meat.”
Observers add that most naturally raised meat is much closer in price to conventional than to organic and that for now, shoppers feel like they are getting a clean healthy product at a price that puts far less pressure on their wallet then organic.