ORLANDO, Fla. – The weakened economy continues to take its toll at the meat case according to results from this year’s annual Power of Meat study released Feb. 21 at the Annual Meat Conference. “In looking at the 2012 data, the average consumer is still very influenced by the economy,” explained Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of 210 Analytics, who was commissioned by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute to conduct the 7th annual Power of Meat study, which examines shopping habits and trends at the retail meat case.

Highlights of the report, which details the findings of a national online poll of 1,340 consumers, were presented by Michael Uetz, principal and founder of Midan Marketing, to attendees of the AMI Annual Meat Conference in Orlando.

Results of the study showed that consumers are putting even more weight on product price when choosing what meat and poultry items to buy. Price per lb. was the most important factor for consumers during their meat-purchasing decision process. Total package cost moved to the second most important position, surpassing product appearance, according to study results.

“We’re seeing a willingness to buy less in order to spend less,” Roerink said.

Price has always been an important consideration for meat consumers. The study has continuously shown that shoppers try to save money in a variety of ways, both before they enter the store and during their grocery trip. Making shopping lists, using coupons, and comparing prices at different retailers are some of the money-saving measures consumers report using, according to the research.

However, with price consciousness at an all-time high, consumers now seem more willing to be flexible when it comes to their meat and poultry purchases. Consumers reported that they are willing to buy different cuts, even different types of protein, if they can save some money, according to study results.

“There’s enormous flexibility with shoppers now,” Roerink explained. “They are going to the store and then they’re checking prices. They will buy what costs less. They will buy a different cut or a different meat if they can save money.”

Roerink also reported that private-brand meat and poultry remains popular. However, now instead of being viewed as an outright preference, it is better defined as a greater willingness to purchase private brands, she explained. Once again, price determines the final purchase decision as shoppers who do not have a preference for national or private brand choose based on other factors, predominantly price.

The Power of Meat study also examined consumer shopping habits in relation to purchasing natural and organic meat and poultry products. Despite economic pressures, natural and organic meat and poultry experienced an uptick in the number of buyers over the past year to 24 percent of shoppers, Roerink said. Additionally, 90 percent of shoppers predict they will buy about the same (70 percent) or more (20 percent) next year.

“There is a very specific consumer who goes after organic products,” Uetz explained. “Health can oftentimes trump price if consumers perceive there to be some benefits in the products they‘re consuming.”

The study also showed that consumers still lack knowledge and preparation skills when it comes to meat and poultry. Shoppers mostly rate their skills relative to preparation, nutrition knowledge, meal planning, etc. as “just okay” versus “great.” The study showed that when asking for advice on how to best prepare meat or poultry, family and friends are the predominant source of information, followed by digital resources, such as the internet and apps. Only six percent would turn to the butcher or meat department.

“Customers don’t think to go to the meat department for advice,” Uetz said. “We have people there in the meat department that are cutting meat and know about meat -- there’s a huge opportunity there.”

The Power of Meat study also examines shopper attitudes about nutrition and perceptions of the meat case vs. the service counter. All the findings in the study show that today’s consumer isn’t the same person who shopped the meat case 10 years ago.

“If retailers take the time to understand the consumer’s needs then they can keep that customer,” Uetz concluded.