Grinding out meat sales
By Craig Levitt
As prices increase, consumers are looking for added value when shopping the meat case. The meat case has always been a point of differentiation for retailers. A well-stocked, fresh offering, along with conscientious behind-the-counter help is often the reason consumers chose to visit one store over another. Those attributes are still important. However, as prices across all meat categories continue to increase retailers must do even more to capture that cherished meat shopper. “With all protein rising in cost, consumers are definitely looking for more bang for the buck,” says Anthony Catelli, president and CEO of Catelli Brothers, a Collingswood, N.J.-based provider of lamb and veal. “We are seeing record growth in all grind categories due to the lower price points compared to the more expensive cuts. Consumers are looking for high-quality, affordable options.” A perfect example is ground lamb. It has become quite popular as lamb burgers are appearing more and more on restaurant menus, say industry observers. “It’s hard to miss that lamb is gaining major traction, whether in plates of traditional Mexican dishes, food trucks or among growing ethnic populations where lamb has long been a strong part of their revered food culture,” says Elizabeth Dressler, vice president, marketing and business development for New York-based Mountain States Rosen, also a provider of lamb and veal. While lamb awareness is increasing, there are still a good many consumers that do not make lamb purchases. Both Catelli Brothers and Mountain States Rosen are doing their part to try and rustle up sales. That includes providing more affordable cuts to retailers as well as driving sales via promotion. “We are trying to work on the smallest margins possible so that we don’t price ourselves off the menu and out of the case,” says Catelli. “Having our retail partners include the more affordable cuts of lamb—and veal—in their case is extremely important. We also try to offer aggressively priced items to help drive sales through feature ads.” Less expensive cuts and promotions help, but if consumers are not familiar with the flavor of the meat or do not know how to cook these cuts, sales are likely to still suffer. That is where education becomes vital. Mountain States Rosen is in the process of creating educational materials for retailers in an attempt to generate lamb sales. “Lamb is a wonderfully consistent protein that is always tender, juicy and uniquely flavorful,” says Dressler. “Communicating this information, along with the nutritional benefits and how to prepare lamb, helps encourage trial and repeat purchases among consumers looking for more exotic choices.” Of course providing education should not be limited to the more exotic meats. There are still plenty of consumers—especially younger Millennials—out there that do not know how to properly prepare beef or pork. “Millennial parents are looking for simple, straight forward recipes that their families will enjoy,” says Seth Mortensen, marketing manager for Agri Beef Co.-based in Boise, Idaho. “Retailers that can provide cooking instructions and cut selection advice at the meat counter will provide significant value to this consumer and, consequently, increase loyalty.” Mortensen says another way to add value to the meat case and generate trial is via smaller cuts. “Cuts such as the Manhattan filet and filet of ribeye help retailers keep their portion sizes in check while offering the consumer a nice thick steak that is easier to cook compared to a traditional thin-cut New York ribeye,” he says, adding that some retailers have had success pricing the portioned cuts by the piece in order to avoid listing the historically high price-per-pound on the package. Higher price points, along with busy consumers looking for convenient meal solutions, have led to an increasing demand for seasoned and marinated offerings as well, say observers. “Consumers expect their grocery stores’ meat department to provide these products for them, without comprising quality, taste or nutrition,” says Kent Harrison, vice president of marketing and premium programs for Tyson Fresh Meats, based in Dakota Dunes, S.D. “We have developed a strong line of pre-marinated and pre-seasoned beef and pork products that allow consumers to prepare a flavorful meal at home without the time and trouble of seasoning or marinating at home.” Love me tender New cuts, sizes and product offerings should stimulate sales, but above all is taste. Consumers are not going to buy something that does not satisfy their taste buds. When it comes to meat, an underlying quality that contributes to taste is tenderness. Officials at Cargill Meat Solutions say while the grading system used to distinguish beef quality is not always understood by consumers, they are aware of the importance of tenderness. For more than 10 years, Cargill has been focused on verifying beef tenderness. “As part of our efforts, we have been collaborating with the USDA over the past two years to develop parameters for our Process Verified Program for USDA Certified Tender, which guarantees tenderness,” says Tammy Shaw, vice president of marketing for the Wichita, Kan.-based company. “We are the first producer in the industry to provide this certification and currently have a number of customers carrying the USDA Certified Tender claim in stores. Retailers that can deliver on tenderness have the upper hand in providing the best value to their shoppers.” To further help retailers, Cargill uses industry data and research aimed at determining the best merchandising and pricing strategies for beef. That includes testing packaging and labeling and better understanding shoppers via in-store intercepts. The National Pork Board (NPB) continues its seasonal promotions in support of its retail partners. The Des Moines, Iowa-based organization also provides several resources on its website designed to better merchandise pork, including new consumer research, information on its seasonal promotions and a sales benchmarking system. “Additionally, our Pork Quarterly e-newsletter offers retailers the latest information on consumers at the meat case, seasonal merchandising tips and other important industry news,” says Patrick Fleming, director of retail marketing for the NPB. North of the Border, the Canadian government recently announced it is dedicating nearly $4 million in funding for the new Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence. The state of the art facility is intended to help promote new beef products, training and education focused on the advantages of Canadian beef, as well as play a role in marketing Canadian beef domestically and internationally. “The Centre of Excellence will further empower our industry to reach consumers and customers both here at home and around the world to build brand loyalty and generate new marketing opportunities,” says Rob Meijer, president of Canada Beef, which has headquarters in Calgary and Mississauga, Ont. The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence is set to be completed in Calgary by December 2014.