Food Forum: Vacuum wrapped sales

Retailers can improve consumer comfort with new beef packaging formats.

For decades, a lack of consumer understanding around the features and benefits of vacuum packaging for beef has reduced retailer adoption of technology that enables shoppers to enjoy the freshest meat available. However, a recent third-party study commissioned jointly by the Beef Checkoff and Sealed Air’s Cryovac food packaging brand shows that a little extra educational push may be all that is necessary to influence consumers’ purchase intent for vacuum-sealed beef products.

While most consumers are aware of vacuum packaged beef, nearly 40% indicate a lack of familiarity with its features and benefits. However, once consumers better understand the unique advantages vacuum packaging offers, their definite purchase intent for vacuum packaged beef improves by 14%, to nearly 70%.

Another 70% who received education around the benefits vacuum packaging offers indicated they would be willing to pay slightly more for beef packaged in this manner.

For processors and retailers, taking time to educate consumers around the format can make a great difference in their ability to leverage its versatility and reduce shrink and food waste. Noting the need for consumer education around vacuum packaging is the first step. The next is determining the messages that resonate best with grocery shoppers.

The Beef Checkoff and Cryovac brand researchers discovered a clear messaging preference hierarchy among consumers, with the messages most likely to influence consumer purchase intent for vacuum packaged beef including:

1. Freshness—Tight vacuum sealing prevents oxygen from contacting overwrapped beef, offering customers a product that often is fresher than beef packaged in PVC-wrapped formats.

2. Coloration—Vacuum packaged beef experiences a natural transition to a bright red color soon after the package is opened and the product is exposed to oxygen. For many years, conventional retail wisdom was that consumers preferred the bright red color of beef overwrapped with PVC material to the natural, darker red coloration of vacuum packaged product. However, our research found that the color issue may be overstated, as just one in six consumers shown vacuum packaged beef in an existing retail meat case cited aversion to the products’ darker coloration.

3. Product Integrity—Vacuum packaging is virtually leak-proof, preserving natural juices within a piece of red meat.

4. Shelf-life Extension—Vacuum-sealing keeps refrigerated beef fresh and ready to use for at least 10 to 14 days, a duration longer than the window offered by PVC overwrap.

5. Freezer Friendliness—Vacuum packaged beef is freezer ready, protecting enclosed products from freezer burn and providing greater flexibility for consumers. For instance, shoppers can buy larger quantities of beef on sale with the peace of mind that they can freeze products for later use without hindering their quality, or the ensuing cooking and eating experience.

While the study showed additional features and benefits of vacuum packaged beef to be important to consumers, these characteristics, and corresponding messages, are secondary priorities. Communicating information about the durability of vacuum packaging, the format’s superior ability to protect products from contamination, and the high quality, taste and juiciness vacuum packaging delivers were slightly less impactful on consumer purchase intent than messaging related to versatility and presentation.

Transitioning more red meat products to vacuum packaging has clear benefits for a retail audience that has understood this to be true for some time, but has shown reluctance to move in this direction because of perceptions of consumer attitudes toward beef packaged in this format. The Beef Checkoff and Sealed Air’s Cryovac food packaging brand now have research that shows consumers may be ready for a new packaging format. In fact, 89% of our respondents consider it important for their retail grocer to stock vacuum packaged beef.

There is a clear opportunity for retailers, beef processors and packaging providers to work together to develop and deliver effective educational materials and messages to consumers. Doing so can enable further adoption of vacuum packaging technology that offers countless operational efficiency benefits—and a potential sales boost—for retailers, while at the same time providing consumers the freshest beef possible in packaging that provides them the greatest versatility.

Jerry Kelly is a national retail account manager, and Shawn Harris is the marketing director, fresh red meat for Sealed Air’s Cryovac food packaging brand. For more information around the Beef Checkoff and Cryovac food packaging brand’s vacuum packaging consumer research, and to view a complete summary, visit http://bit.ly/17KcFJo. To learn more about Sealed Air’s Cryovac food packaging brand, visit www.cryovac.com.

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