Retailers have to keep consumers top-of-mind during every purchasing and merchandising decision. This is the case storewide, but mostly in the perishables departments including meat. Retailers have to consider what products to carry and how much; how to price the products; how to display the product mix; and what kind of packaging is necessary.

Last fall, results from the 2010 National Meat Case Study (NMCS) were released and showed significant changes have taken place in the retail meat case since the last study, which took place in 2007. Funded by Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand, The Beef Checkoff program and the National Pork Board, this is the fourth audit in this research series that provides retailers and processors information about meat merchandising trends. The NMCS audit included information from 124 retail supermarkets and nine club stores in 51 metro markets across 31 states on various days and at random times. Researchers from Texas Tech Univ. conducted the bulk of the data collection, and First Stage Marketing provided data analysis.

Areas showing the most significant changes in the 2010 audit included an increase in store branding, an increase in consumer information on packaging and continued growth in case-ready products. The results show retailers and suppliers continue to adapt their meat cases to meet consumer demand.

Attendees at this spring’s 2011 Meat Conference in Dallas heard the results from the NMCS in addition to results from the sixth annual Power of Meat study, conducted by 210 Analytics LLC. This study surveyed 1,200 shoppers to find out about shopping trends, opinions on meat merchandising, knowledge of meat and poultry preparation and the impact of the recession on their purchasing decisions.

Economic impact
How the economy has affected and will continue to affect the retail channel remains on the minds of everyone in the industry. Even with signs of a recovery, retailers and consumers are continuing to take a conservative approach.

“There’s still a lot of in-home meal preparation going on, and foodservice is continuing to struggle to build traffic and sales,” says Jerry Kelly, national retail account manager for Sealed Air’s Cryovac brand.

According to Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of 210 Analytics LLC, the Power of Meat study showed that shoppers are averaging fi ve home-cooked meals a week (four of which contain meat or poultry as a center-of-the-plate item).

However, because of the economic pressures, consumers are doing more than just eating at home to save money. With 31 percent of households earning less than they did the prior year, food spending overall is down among those negatively affected by the recession. Price per pound continues to be the top reason consumers purchase particular items in the meat department. However, there has been a decrease in the amount of bulk packages bought at retail. Bulk packages are typically purchased in an effort to save money on price per pound, but consumers are spending less per visit and aren’t wanting to spend a higher amount upfront in order to save money overall, Roerink said during her presentation at the AMC.

What’s in a name?
Branded meat products – both from suppliers and from retailers – continue to invade the meat case, on the service and self-service side. The results from the 2010 NMCS showed branded products continued to have a strong presence. The percent of packages carrying a store brand grew to 36 percent, tripling since 2004. Store brands increased from 12 percent in 2004 to 36 percent in 2010, which was at the expense of packages carrying supplier brands which decreased 13 percent.

Store-brand growth was seen across all proteins in 2010. Beef store branding increased from 31 percent in 2007 to 51 percent in 2010; ground beef increased from 21 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2010; pork increased from 19 percent in 2007 to 26 percent in 2010; and chicken store brands increased from 26 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2010.

Consumer information also increased as more packages – both store and supplier brands – have included nutrition information and cooking instructions. Cooking information on packages increased in 2010 – 32 percent of packages featured on-pack cooking information in 2007, and that number increased to 39 percent in 2010. Turkey topped the charts with 76 percent of packages containing cooking information.

On-pack nutrition labeling was up to 61 percent from 34 percent in 2002, and has expanded across all proteins in the meat case – beef up to 29 percent from 27 percent, ground beef up to 81 percent from 77 percent, chicken up to 80 percent from 74 percent, and pork remained steady at 53 percent.

The number of packaged meat products featuring on-pack nutritional information will be on the rise soon as the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s new nutritional guidelines for meat go into effect. Forty of the most-popular cuts of meat and poultry will have to feature certain nutritional information. Under the new rule, packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry will feature nutrition facts panels on their labels. Whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry will also have nutrition facts panels either on their package labels or available for consumers at the point-of-purchase.

The nutrition-facts panels should provide consumers with sufficient information at the store to assess the nutrient content of major cuts, enabling them to select meat and poultry products that fit into a healthy diet that meets their needs.

Meat suppliers, retailers and packaging companies will all have to work together to help get this accomplished by the Jan. 1, 2012, deadline. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has already begun the process of educating the industry on how to meet the required nutritional labeling guidelines. The Retail Marketing section onwww.beef.orgincludes a nutritional labeling overview, Q&A and a nutrient database for fresh meat and poultry product labeling. The website even has a tool designed to help retailers make their own nutrition posters to display in store.

“We have tools available that will help suppliers and retailers prepare for the new guidelines,” says Meghan Pusey, advertising director for NCBA. “We want to continue to serve the industry by being a reliable resource during this process.”

Case-ready continues
National Meat Case Study results showed the total number of case-ready products in the meat case now represent 66 percent of packages. Case-ready meat packaging has been around for more than 20 years, Kelly says. The ground beef chub, which is still around today, was one of the original forms of case-ready packaging. Now there are modified-atmosphere packages and vacuum-sealed meat packs that both qualify as caseready. “If you walk the meat case on any given day, you will come across a multitude of packaging options,” Kelly says. “One size does not fit all. But different types of meat and various cuts call for different types of packaging.

“Some packaging helps extend shelf-life or helps maintain freshness,” he adds. “These both will help reduce food waste."

“Extending shelf-life is always going to be a need for both retailers and consumers,” Kelly continues. “Retailers want another day on the shelf, consumers want another day in the fridge. Case-ready packages can help achieve this goal.”

Kelly added that when it comes to new products or new packaging, communicating with consumers is the key. “If you make packaging changes, it’s important to communicate why those changes are being made,” he says. “Are the changes being made to extend shelf life, to use more environmentally friendly materials, to help reduce package leaking – whatever the reason, if the consumer understands why the changes are being made then they are more likely to support it.”

A lot of packaging changes are driven by consumer demands. Consumer and retailer complaints about leaky meat packages spurred packaging companies toward developing vacuum-sealed, leak-proof packages.

Food waste is also a concern with consumers. Pre-portioned packages – such as individually portioned, vacuum-sealed meat portions that are option available to consumers. It helps them cook only what they need. It also helps avoid cross contamination with open packages.

Retailers are even requesting an easy-open feature on wholesale meat packages. And with ongoing environmental concerns, creating packaging out of renewable resources will surely be a growing trend to watch.

The data from the meat case audits provides an understanding of how the national retail meat case is evolving and where it’s headed. This information, combined with the annual Power of Meat study, examining the consumer side of shopping the meat case, can be invaluable to everyone in the meat industry – from the producers to retailers and everyone in between.perforated between portions – are one