A little consumer education and possibly some new packaging might be all that stands in the way of increased retail beef sales, according to recent research study conducted by the Beef Checkoff and Cryovac, a division of Sealed Air Corporation based in Duncan, SC. Research, which started last summer, investigated consumer satisfaction with the value of beef, existing packaging and the opportunities that exist for manufacturers and retailers when it comes to beef sales.

Research was performed at store level with in-store interviews in Denver and Harrisburg, Pa., as well with focus groups at Cryovac’s Sealed Air Packform facility in Atlanta. Consumers were asked about their beef purchases and perceptions of PVC-overwrapped and vacuum-packaged beef.

Consumer interviews showed an existing familiarity and comfort level with PVC-overwrapped beef products. However, consumers also voiced concerns about issues with PVC packaging — namely freezing, leakage and durability.

Prior to being educated on the benefits of vacuum-packaged beef, interviews revealed some qualities the consumers didn’t like about vacuum-packed beef. Forty percent didn’t like the color or said it had an unappealing appearance; 12 percent said the package was difficult to open; and 4 percent didn’t like that the package limited their visibility to the product.

Research also revealed that consumers connect the color of beef with a degree of freshness. “Consumers have been conditioned to equate the vivid, red color of beef with its freshness and high quality,” explained Shawn Harris, marketing director of red meat for Cryovac Sealed Air, during a webinar presentation of the research results. “Consumers continue to have a strong aversion to brown meat.”

Meat color continues to be one of the top challenges among packagers and retailers who are trying to sell vacuum-packaged beef. Vacuum-packaged beef is typically a dark, more purplish color when it’s packaged, but it returns to a bright red color after the package is opened and the meat is exposed to oxygen.

However, with some education about meat color and the benefits of vacuum-packaged beef, consumers say they would be more likely to purchase the vacuum-packaged beef. In the research study, 79 percent of those surveyed would be more likely to purchase vacuum-packaged beef after being educated on the benefits.

“Education pays off,” Jerry Kelly, national retail accounts manager for Cryovac Sealed Air, explained. “The more consumers know, the more their definite purchase intent increases.”

Some consumers might even pay more — 70 percent of those in the survey said they would be willing to pay slightly more for the benefits of vacuum-packaged beef.

The research outlined the most important messages to pass on to consumers regarding vacuum-packaged beef, which include longer shelf-life, freshness, freezer friendly, reduced leakage and enhanced flavor and taste.

Cryovac plans to follow this research study with an education campaign to help inform consumers, as well as retailers, on the features and benefits of vacuum-packaged beef in an effort to help retailers increase sales and reduce shrink.