Understanding the power of meat

by Keith Nunes
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Supermarkets remain by far the destination of choice for consumers buying their center-of-the-plate protein source such as beef, chicken, pork, fish and other meats, according to the second annual report titled "The Power of Meat — An In-Depth Look at Meat Through the Shoppers’ Eyes." The study was jointly produced by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute.

As many as 71% of consumers shop at conventional supermarkets for their primary source for meat, up from 68% in 2006. A significant number of supercenter patrons skip the meat aisle there. In fact, nearly one in four supercenter shoppers choose to buy fresh meat products instead at conventional supermarkets.

"Supercenters don’t seem to be delivering at the level of service consumers desire," said Michael Uetz, principal in Midan Marketing, Chicago, during a presentation on the study during The F.M.I. Show, May 7.

The Power of Meat study was conducted on-line and consisted of responses from 1,750 shoppers nationwide. The survey sought to assess the general perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of shoppers regarding meat. Both new and repeated questions from the first effort were included in the study.

Prior to his presentation, Mr. Uetz said, "two years make a line and three years make a trend," underscoring the relative newness of the market research endeavor.

The 2007 study found meat remains a staple of American dinner plates. Four in 10 consumers serve beef and chicken three or more times per week, and more than one in 10 dine on pork as often. The findings are due in part to an increasing number of family meals prepared at home, according to the report.

Survey participants reported they serve meat for breakfast at least two times per week and prepare an evening meal that includes a meat item at least five times per week. Mr. Uetz noted the survey did not have a strict definition of "prepare," so a meat product could range from fresh to processed.

Brand identity has penetrated the processed meat category more than the fresh meat segment. Fifteen per cent of the consumers surveyed preferred a national brand of fresh meat, 12% preferred a private label/store brand and 72% had no preference. On the other hand, 37% of respondents said they prefer a national brand of processed meat, 9% said they prefer private label/store brand and 53% said they had no preference.

However, when it comes to preference between fresh meat and newer types of processed products such as ready-to-eat/ready-to-heat meats like fully-cooked pot roasts and meatloaf, fresh is the clear leader. Only 7% of survey respondents said they never purchased fresh meat while 30% said they never purchased ready-to-eat products and 36% said they never purchased ready-to-heat items.

In addition, 70% of consumers said they prepare fresh meat three or more times per week. Whereas they said they only prepare ready-to-heat items 11% of the time and ready-to-eat meat products 7% of the time.

However, Mr. Uetz noted the ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat segments should not be ignored.

"The research showed younger shoppers are probably the least likely to prepare fresh meat," he said. "They don’t know how to cook and are looking for convenience oriented products.

"Singles and consumers between the ages of 18-24 were two categories of consumers that keep showing up (in consumer research), but are overshadowed by the focus on baby boomers. There are 95 million singles in the U.S. that make up 53 million households. They have very different shopping needs than people who have families or baby boomers and could be an opportunity for growth in the meat department."

Natural/organic continues to grow

Demand for natural and organic meat continued to climb with 21% of the shoppers surveyed indicating they purchased the products three months prior to the survey — up from 17% in 2006. Nearly half bought them at supermarkets, more than two in 10 at natural and organic stores and one in 10 at supercenters.

Chicken emerged as the most popular natural and organic meat, purchased by more than seven in 10 shoppers in the past three months, followed by beef (50%) and ground meat (31%).

Five beliefs motivate at least 4 in 10 shoppers to buy natural or organic meat products, according to the survey:

• Better health and treatment of the animal (44%)

• Better nutritional value (43%)

• Better taste (42%)

• Positive long-term health effects (42%)

• Freshness (41%)

Price, however, continues to restrain sales of natural and organic meat. More than 6 in 10 shoppers said they would buy more of the products if the prices were more in line with those of conventionally produced meat.

Price was a common theme throughout the Power of Meat research. In fact, price affected consumer purchases of all types of meat. While shoppers said they value the quality of meat offered by conventional supermarkets, they are extremely price-driven in selecting which products to buy. More than one-third compare meat and poultry prices at different stores in fliers and advertisements before every shopping trip.

Price per pound ranked highest among the features most important to consumers when selecting a cut of meat, averaging 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 6. Next important was product appearance (4.3), followed by package size/total package price (3.8) and nutritional content (3.6).

Survey respondents offered hundreds of suggestions about how to improve retail meat departments and increase sales, said Mr. Uetz. The improvements most often cited that would stimulate more sales were improved product quality (49%) and more variety (40%). Many people suggested retailers offer smaller portions and package sizes, suited for the large number of one- and two-person households, including many baby boomers.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, May 15, 2007, starting on Page 33. Click here to search that archive.

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