Fresh food home delivery skyrocketed during the first, second and third waves of COVID-19. The business data website, statista.com, estimated sales for the fresh food meal kit industry at $6.9 billion for 2021 and they are set to keep growing. Estimations for 2022 are $7.7 billion with 2024 sales of meal kits projected to increase to $10.2 billion.
As meal kit delivery grew, and continues to grow, online meat and poultry retailers have also moved to a home delivery model as consumer demand for meat products delivered directly to the home has increased. Delivery of fresh and frozen meat to consumers’ homes brings certain challenges, requirements and preferences.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Porter Road began pursuing quality and excellence with its brick-and-mortar butcher shop in 2010. The pursuit continued when the company opened its online butcher shop in February 2018. Regardless of the channel, Porter Road’s model always centers around quality, animal welfare and sustainability.
“When we decided to launch PorterRoad.com and ship our meat, we were determined to find a sustainable packaging solution that reflected our values and those of our customers while also ensuring excellent product quality through delivery,” said Porter Road’s chief executive officer, Chris Carter. “We were an early adopter of Green Cell Foam cornstarch insulation, a much more sustainable alternative to Styrofoam [polystyrene] that can be rinsed down a sink, composted, or used to start a grill. We also use gel packs to maintain the proper temperature during shipping.”
Great Plains Beef subsidiary, Certified Piedmontese, Lincoln, Neb., focuses on premium case-ready steak production and showcases the product in vacuum skin packaging (VSP). The VSP ensures stronger protection and appearance no matter how the steak is sold, delivered, and opened. But in addition to case ready, Certified Piedmontese has seen promise in delivering steaks to customers at home.
“Our business is constantly evolving in the industry, and home delivery is year over year becoming a stronger portion of our overall business,” said Ben Mohl, director of sales and marketing, Certified Piedmontese. “Right now, 10% of our business is done direct to consumer (DTC), but we will continue to see that percentage grow over the next five to 10 years.”
For its home deliveries, CP packages products in the same VSP used on the case-ready steaks and then puts that into an eco-friendly shipping container consisting of recyclable cardboard and a cornstarch cooler lining allowing all the shipping contents to be recycled.
Porter Road and Certified Piedmontese take great pride in operating their businesses with a core belief and mission that boils down to doing the right thing. From the farmers and the land to the consumer and throughout the entire business, these companies do their best to produce quality products with the environment in mind, and that includes packaging for home delivery.
“Sustainability is our guiding light throughout our cattle and beef business,” Mohl said. “Responsible handling and being stewards of the land is at the forefront of every Nebraska rancher and the ranchers within our business, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But that philosophy extends all the way to our campus.”
The Certified Piedmontese offices were constructed to comply with LEED Certified Gold standards, showcasing a low environmental footprint.
“Letting that sustainability flow even down to the coolers we ship in, the limited paper we include in the box, and the offices in which we work shows the lengths our company goes through to ensure our beef program is good for you and sustainable for our environment and planet.”
Porter Road has committed to its at-home shipping customers with the same passion it has committed to its stewardship of the land and the local farmers that supply the company’s animals. It examines many factors, including packaging and others, when shipping product directly to consumers.
“We are very thoughtful about our packaging and shipping practices to ensure the product arrives to customers in perfect condition,” Carter said. “Everything from the individual product packaging and labeling to the way products are placed in boxes is considered. We also take into account the weather forecast for the destination. We ship most of our cuts and chops fresh, rather than frozen, which also impacts our shipping. It’s something our customers really appreciate, because they can start cooking immediately.”
Cost of COVID
High consumer demand for fresh meat delivered direct to the home has increased significantly in the last two years, and COVID-19 has definitely played a role. Both Porter Road and Certified Piedmontese delivered direct to the customer’s home before the pandemic but saw spikes once the pandemic hit.
“At the onset of the pandemic, we saw a huge increase in customer demand on PorterRoad.com and our business has continued to experience rapid growth since then,” Carter said. “The shift in consumer behavior to buying groceries online and familiarity with shipping perishable goods has certainly benefited our business as well.”
Mohl added, “We already were focusing on growing and developing our home delivery services prior to the pandemic. The pandemic told the American consumer that you can safely buy beef online and have it arrive at your doorstep and not miss the quality of fresh cut steaks from the grocery store. So COVID, if anything, allowed a beef brand and company like us to become more relevant to the home consumer.”
Porter Road has always taken necessary measures to keep shipping and packaging costs in check. Once the pandemic became an issue, the company maintained its strategy and continued to nurture the already established partnerships with shipping vendors and packaging suppliers.
“To stay ahead of supply chain volatility, we rely heavily on our customer behavior data to forecast and place larger orders,” Carter said. “We’ll also periodically audit our shipping box sizes to maximize efficiency, and we’re always working with our shipping partners to negotiate the best terms.”
Certified Piedmontese has not seen significant increases in direct home delivery costs after the recent increases in orders. The company has focused to keep as much of the work as possible in house or secure long-term relationships with its vendors.
“We did choose to upgrade to eco-friendly packaging to allow our customers easier ways to dispose of the shipping cooler if they wish to not keep it,” Mohl said. “Moving toward our skin (VSP) packaging also allows our steaks to stand up to the rigor of shipping across the country.”
Home delivery of meat has been established and the future projections promise continued growth.
“As we continue to grow our DTC business, offering more proteins to our website to allow for a more comprehensive shopping experience, the packaging of premium proteins will play a big part,” Mohl said. “Choosing sustainable partners who offer packaging that meets our standards and being able to fulfill orders in our eco-friendly coolers is an important part of our future. Consumers will need packaging that can handle shipping, have a great shelf life in a freezer and maximized shelf life in the fridge. This will be important to accommodate consumer home demand.”
“We’re constantly watching for new packaging developments that reduce environmental impact while meeting our criteria for product quality,” Carter added.