FOOD EMPORIUM TO TRY BUFFALO MEAT

MONTVALE, N.J. -- The Food Emporium division of A&P can now be added to the list of retailers agreeing to try marketing buffalo meat in their stores.Buffalo meat products -- rarely carried by supermarkets on the East Coast and typically seen as a specialty niche in the meat case -- will be made available as a market test in a new Food Emporium unit, said A&P officials here."We are not carrying it

MONTVALE, N.J. -- The Food Emporium division of A&P can now be added to the list of retailers agreeing to try marketing buffalo meat in their stores.

Buffalo meat products -- rarely carried by supermarkets on the East Coast and typically seen as a specialty niche in the meat case -- will be made available as a market test in a new Food Emporium unit, said A&P officials here.

"We are not carrying it right now, but we are going to test it, just as we did with organic meat," said Bill Vitulli, vice president of community and government relations for A&P.

"It will be tested in one of our new [Food Emporium] stores, which opens in a couple of weeks in Westchester county," Vitulli confirmed.

Getting into a chain such as A&P, even on an experimental basis, is a major coup for the Denver Buffalo Co., a Colorado company that will supply Food Emporium for the trial run.

"It's exciting to crack the elusive New York market," said Paul Bernardo, vice president of sales for Denver Buffalo Co. "The East Coast is a tough market, where consumers need a major education process.

"We have to let them know, first of all, that buffalo is no longer an endangered species, herds are growing; and, secondly, most people have tried venison and found it gamey, so they think buffalo will be the same, but it's not. Buffalo meat is sweet and succulent."

The meat supplier will start its foray into the Food Emporium store with Buff Dogs, supplied in a retail pack and made with a mix of buffalo meat and Coleman's beef, according to Bernardo.

"The bulk of the [retail] business is Buff Dogs, buffalo bratwursts and burgers. The main deterrent right now is price -- people aren't going to say, 'Hey yeah, give me some buffalo tenderloin at $20 a pound,' " he said.

"As more people start raising buffalo, prices will come down. It's never going to be a huge industry, but it is growing, especially for health reasons. People on diets are getting sick of eating chicken."

Buffalo marketers emphasize buffalo meat's inherent low-fat, low-cholesterol properties: for example, 4 ounces of ground buffalo has 17 grams of fat as compared with 30 grams for choice ground beef, Bernardo said.

"The area of the country where it has grown the fastest is Minnesota," Bernardo said.

He also named Fred Meyer Inc., Portland, Ore., and Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz., as two chains that buy full cases of the product and do Buffalo Blowout sales regularly.

"We run a buffalo sale twice a year, so it's nothing new for Fred Meyer," said Tom Sargent, the chain's director of sales and merchandising for meat and seafood.

Sargent also said that he does not expect buffalo to catch on to the extent that it would seriously challenge beef.

A meat executive with a Texas retailer that experimented recently with buffalo said the segment was not very successful.

"We tried it with not much result," said the meat supervisor, based in Dallas. "It's an education; it won't cook like beef and people try to and then are dissatisfied with the result."

Bernardo's outlook, however, is optimistic. "Business has been up in the last few months," he said. Bernardo said that Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., will be marketing ground buffalo shortly. "It's easiest because it's lower priced. They can see if that goes first, then look for other items," he said.

Officials at Harris Teeter could not be reached for comment last week about any plans to carry buffalo.