In Germany, packaged meat case displays are expansive and cover rows and rows of vertical packages.

With vastly different processing capabilities, distribution requirements and consumer demand for meat and poultry products in Europe vs. those in the United States, packaging variances reflect how not only regional preferences, but also the infrastructures of producing and distributing proteins dictate packaging formats.

After a recent tour of Fleischhof Rasting’s meat-processing facility in Meckenheim, Germany, evidence of the wide array of packaging was hard to miss in the plant, where more than 4,000 meat products are made and shipped to approximately 4,000 independently operated Edeka grocery stores. With more than 11,600 retail locations in Germany, Edeka is one of the largest retailers in the country. Snapshots of meat departments at traditional stores (including Edeka and Rewe) as well as lower-tier brands (such as Aldi and Lidl) contrast sharply with the packaged-meat departments at US supermarkets.

The artistic flair shown in a typical Edeka fresh-meat case, complete with shingled liverwursts, spiraling sausage and perfectly stacked schnitzel, continues in the packaged-meats department. Packaged products on display are typically sliced and visible through clear films and are positioned to emphasize the texture and slices are artistically shingled or fanned in shallow trays. Many packages are designed to be unsealed, served right from the package and can easily be resealed. Displays are expansive and span rows and rows of vertical packages. Packaged portions tend to be smaller and are more likely to be available in ounces (grams) vs. pounds of products, including bacon and even poultry products. Many products include photos of the regional producers that raised the livestock used to make the products. Higher-end products are easy to identify and are usually skin-packed, designed to feature the look of the meat itself. Aged beef is often marketed in the packaged-meat case (labeled “matured” by using a paper or cardboard sleeve). Edeka officials report the popularity of packaged meats that include simple verbiage that translates to “packaged just for you,” to give consumers the impression that the meat was packaged in the store. For Edeka stores, however, freshness isn’t just perception. In fact, sausage products manufactured at the Meckenheim plant are on the shelves of stores one day after they are made at the facility.

Beyond Germany

Outside the borders of Deutschland, packaging trends reflect many of the same developments that are common in the US. Shelf-life considerations, distribution challenges and limiting waste are global trends. Demand for shelf-life never seems to end, says Jim Mize, vice president of global packaging solutions with Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging Division, based in Duncan, SC.

“What’s driving that globally is that millions of people in Asia are moving to urban areas; incomes are rising so food demand is elevated; resulting in food having to travel greater distances. And with that greater distribution distance, is the need for shelf-life.”

Secondly, it’s no secret that the cost of protein is increasing. Packaging solutions that address this unfortunate fact are always welcomed.

“It favors protecting the food better so waste is lower,” and retail shrink is minimized, Mize says. Food waste is a constant conversation at all levels of the food-supply chain. “The US is starting to grow some awareness along those lines. It’s a big factor in Europe and in the UK, in particular.”

One trend addresses shelf-life, food protection and reducing food waste.

“What we’re seeing globally is a shift toward longer shelf-life options, which really is a movement away from high-oxygen MAP and more vacuum packaging,” Mize says.

Vacuum packs that cater to the needs of consumers are another push. This is evident in how meat is merchandised, Mize says. “We are seeing a lot more vertical displays,” which favors skin packaging (including Sealed Air’s Darfresh technology) that holds everything in place, regardless of displaying angle. Easy-open packs continue to be in demand across the globe, as well, Mize says, including Sealed Air’s Grip & Tear Cook-in bags.

Andy Stratton, Sealed Air’s UK retail specialist, points out that each country tends to have a different focus in regards to their packaging offerings. In Europe, unlike in the case-ready-centric US, “back-store” meat using stretch overwrap is still quite prevalent. Stratton says that across Europe, packaging formats and applications tend to vary regionally, while the UK tends to be on the cutting edge and sets the tone for what other countries will later adopt.

In the UK portions, are typically smaller to appeal to single, couples or at most two couples.

For those countries outside the UK, especially in Eastern Europe, there is somewhat of a resistance “to move from back-store to centrally prepared meat,” Stratton says.

He adds that as packaging evolves away from MAP toward vacuum, skin-packed applications, an education process has been necessary to make UK consumers aware of the benefits and attributes of each. The differences start with appearance. “You put a vacuum-packed [Darfresh] steak beside an MAP-packed steak,” and the widely held perception that the brighter colored product is superior in quality has to be re-learned. Thanks to point-of-sale campaigns highlighting how today’s packaging reveals product that isn’t as bright and that translates into higher-quality product inside the package. “They have been trained to understand that just because the meat is not bright doesn’t mean the quality of it has been impaired,” Stratton says.

Portion matters

In the UK, smaller portion size is one of the main differences in meat packages compared to the US. “In the UK, we buy to use,” Stratton says. While some US consumers are accustomed to a “cook-some-now-and-save-some-for-later” mentality, in the UK portions are typically tailored for single, couples or at most two couples.

He adds that vertical merchandising of meat products is also an emphasis in the UK and a contrast to how products in the US are displayed. “Stacked MAP products, where consumers see more of the side of the packaging, as opposed to the meat product itself, is more common. Because there is more vertical merchandising, consumers don’t need to spend as much time at the fixture.”

Species specifics

In Europe, regional branding is also an emphasis, says Shawn Harris, marketing director for fresh red meat for Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand. Scottish-beef promotions, for example, or highlighting Hereford beef from a specific region is more common in European markets, he says, unlike in many parts of the US.

Harris also points out that in his travels to European supermarkets, lamb is much more prevalent than the limited amount in the US.

Stratton agrees, saying beef is easily the most prominent protein in the meat cases of most UK markets, followed by pork, lamb and poultry.