Solving the six o’clock scramble
Dinnertime can be the most stressful time of the day. When the six o’clock scramble rolls around, most of us could use some help getting a healthy meal on the table quickly. Sure, you could go through the trouble of meal planning for the week or simply heat and serve something from the freezer. But today’s consumers want fresh and easy meal preparation options that serve up plenty of protein and flavor.
Value-added meat and poultry items are fast becoming the new go-to dinner solution. These fresh offerings have at least one step of further preparation and include pre-marinated, pre-cut or pre-seasoned items such as meatloaf, meatballs, kabobs and chicken wings. Their convenience and ease of preparation is striking a chord with retailers as well.
“Value-added meat dollar sales growth is currently outpacing the total fresh meat department,” says Jonna Parker, principal for Fresh Center of Excellence at market research firm IRI in Chicago. Value-added meat is up 2.5 percent while the fresh meat department is only up 1.1 percent for the latest 52 weeks ending March 26 versus the prior year, according to IRI point-of-sale data.
Despite the faster sales growth, retailers can still maximize the opportunities and benefits of an expanded value-added meats and poultry presence within the fresh department.
“From a sales perspective, value-added meat items tend to have higher consumption frequency as well as higher household penetration, so they can help drive sales in the department,” says Jill Tomeny, senior category manager of category solutions for Daymon, a retail services firm in Stamford, Conn.,
In fact, value-added meat and poultry can help support private brand solutions that cross and connect the entire store.
“For example, a limited-time only program focused on maple flavor could encompass marinated meats, grocery BBQ sauces, bakery items and prepared foods,” Tomeny says. The result is a destination experience for shoppers built on signature private brand value-added items.
Keep them coming back
To be a regular dinnertime hero, private brands retailers will need to make sure they are hitting the mark on a few important targets, starting with pricing.
“Price remains important to consumers, both per pound and total package price,” Parker says. “But the meat department must also offer high quality both in how it looks and how it tastes at home.”
Grant Lorsung, president of Buena Park, Calif.-based True Fresh HPP, which offers high pressure processing, agrees and says, “Having great quality, exceptional service and a range of healthy and fresh options make consumers come back time and time again. Additionally, high-end products with chef-type options make return customers not only happy, but they spread the word to everyone they know.”
And while freshness and quality of an overall private brand program will remain a consumer priority, a positive shopping experience is equally as important.
“Consumers want clean, well-stocked departments along with knowledgeable, friendly service,” Tomeny says. “They’re looking for a wide variety of package sizes and cuts, as well as a selection of specialty meats having attributes such as grass-fed, antibiotic-free or organic.”
Variety is a very important feature within value-added meats and poultry. The right assortment will differentiate a retailer’s offerings and retain consumer interest.
“Consumers are looking for a personalized experience and will frequent stores that have products — including fresh meat — matching their lifestyle and taste preferences,” Parker explains.
For example, IRI Fresh Shopping Trends research shows consumers — especially millennials and households with children — seek both transparency in ingredients and convenient meals.
“Just having the hottest prices or best freezer-stocking sales is not enough,” Parker adds. “Helping them have an easy and delightful experience in-store and at home is critical.”
Moving more product
A few cuts of meat and poultry remain popular, namely stir fry/fajita chicken strips, corned beef, marinated pork loins, and cooked or smoked chicken leg quarters. But the latest flavors to spark consumer interest showcase the influence of indulgence and hot or spicy tastes.
“For both chicken and pork, barbeque/mesquite remain on top with Asian, Hispanic, American South and Italian flavor influences all appearing in the top 10 [flavors],” Parker says.
When value-added meats and poultry offerings are changed up, consumers not only notice but they also appreciate the flavor variety.
Customers, says Lorsung, always enjoy it when an item is modified a bit, such as increasing the spiciness a little or rotating the center of the plate product, from shish kabobs stuffed and topped with elegant compound butters to “a cross section of fresh-cut proteins.”
Global barbecue, Latin and Asian flair, spicy or alcohol-inspired profiles are all trending, according to Daymon’s Tomeny.
“Inspiration for value-added meat products that move can come from many places, including the prepared meals section of stores as well as top food service menu trends,” Parker notes.
Just look at the explosion of meal kits. Their popularity shows that many consumers want to take active roles in cooking but need ideas and time savers — something to spark their creativity and taste buds.
“Value-added meat can be a way to help [consumers] connect with that experience in the store,” Parker adds.
Getting the word out
When it comes to the overall meat and poultry category, even the most seasoned consumer occasionally needs some guidance or education about the products they purchase. And for retailers it is a can’t-miss opportunity to connect with their shoppers.
“Consumers are looking for nutritional guidance when shopping for meat, as well as direction as to what cuts are best for specific cooking techniques,” Tomeny says. “Clear and complete information in this area helps with purchase decision.”
Lorsung highlights the importance of the retailer’s own employees to be that educational resource.
“In today’s market, the meat manager and butchers are masters of options, from training and educating to packaging and presenting to the consumer in a way that shows the advantages of buying a value-added item from the meat counter,” he says.
Labeling is also crucial, he adds. Food safety awareness of all allergens and ingredients must be clear on the package.
“On value-added meats, perhaps the most important thing to communicate is freshness and quality,” Tomeny stresses. “Understanding how, when and where value-added items are prepared can reinforce the message.”
From a packaging perspective, products sealed to prevent any potential leaks is essential. Other important packaging attributes include resealable items and packaging materials that can go right into the freezer.
Although nearly all retailers offer some kind of value-added meats and/or poultry items, some are still missing the mark when it comes to positioning these items as part of a total meal solutions program.
“Help customers streamline meal planning, shopping and meal preparation using value-added meats as pantry items,” Tomeny advises. “Provide weekly rotating suggestions to help customers explore the range of your product line.”
IRI’s Parker notes that retailers are experimenting with positioning value-added meat products in prime traffic locations versus the meat department. These alternative locations include near the produce case for grill-ready cuts in the summer, for example.
“While these tests are difficult to measure in point-of-sale data, they do make sense to make the shopping journey easier for shoppers, and ultimately, grab incremental sales,” she says.
Offering up favorite flavors or formats that have local inspiration or appeal is one way to target a specific regional customer base.
“Make sure you’re addressing the right household size in your portioning, addressing singles or large families where appropriate,” Tomeny says. “Seasonal rotation can also differentiate and create demand for specialty items.”
Fresh meats with special attribute claims like natural, local or antibiotic-free are growing in demand, so retailers will need to have a visible presence in these items, including within value-added segments as well.
“For example, offering marinated organic meats or antibiotic-free, ready-to-cook items adds to a product’s appeal and further differentiates your department,” Tomeny suggests.
Although “local” is not a regulated claim and is hard to define, consumers remain interested in the stories behind the food at the store. “Being transparent about when local sourcing is available is another way to differentiate your store,” Parker says.
Jevtic is a freelance writer from Schaumburg, Ill.