THE MEAT GOES ON

Even though winter has been slow in coming for much of the nation, simmering stews and long-cooking roasts, the foods of chilly days, are still finding their way onto the center of the plate.Meat department executives interviewed by SN said they are making the most of theseason by allocating more space for winter meats. Beef and pork roasts, stew meats, along with some whole-bird turkeys, are expected

Even though winter has been slow in coming for much of the nation, simmering stews and long-cooking roasts, the foods of chilly days, are still finding their way onto the center of the plate.

Meat department executives interviewed by SN said they are making the most of the

season by allocating more space for winter meats. Beef and pork roasts, stew meats, along with some whole-bird turkeys, are expected to be this season's best items, they said.

Speaking for the beef segment of the industry, winter means "roast season," said Jerry Kelly, beef retail manager of the Beef Industry Council, a division of the National Live Stock and Meat Board, Chicago.

Kelly said shoppers start to think of slow-cooked, beef-based meals around the holidays, and start buying larger-sized cuts of beef. That means bigger rings at the cash register than when shoppers are buying their little strips of fajita meat to toss with some vegetables.

"It is the biggest package out there, so tonnage goes up," said Kelly.

To spark additional sales of roasting meats, Bill Broeker, supervisor of meats at Buehler Foods, Jasper, Ind., a 22-store chain, said he rearranges the meat case and puts roasts last in line, because "that is what everyone is looking for. This way they are last in the shopping pattern, so they shop the whole case and hopefully will have an impulse buy before they get to the roasts," said Broeker.

Despite the milder weather in some areas of the country this year, Broeker, along with several other retailers, said meat sales have been good so far this winter.

Even with the sun shining and flowers blooming prematurely, they have continued to fill their meat cases with soup and stew meats, oven roasts and items for the crockpot.

"We've not seen a change. People are still buying roasts and winter meats," said Broeker.

During the winter, sales of beef roasts, as well as pork items in general, increase for Rogers Markets, Fort Wayne, Ind., according to Rick Allisbaugh, manager of meat operations for the 15-unit company.

"We are seeing sales increase in those items this winter, fortunately," said Allisbaugh. "We have had a fairly mild winter."

Ralph Karst, meat supervisor at Falley's, Topeka, Kan., a 27-unit operation, said his best sellers this year are chuck roast, rump roast and stew meats. "Anything to do with crockpot cooking, casserole-type items and stuff like that," said Karst.

This year he allocated about 10% more space for roasts, and also about 10% more space for stew meats, he said, and sales have been strong.

To help shoppers overcome reluctance to tackle a slow-cooking roast or stew in this age of convenience, Falley's provided menu ideas that included an ingredient list and cooking instructions for different types of meat in the case. The recipes, said Karst, were prepared by a spice company.

The Beef Industry Council also offered retailers five holiday beef recipes for consumers. Three were for roasts, one for stew and one for kabobs, said Kelly.

Some retailers are trying to further boost winter meat sales by cross-merchandising complementary items such as stew vegetables in the meat case.

Farm Fresh Supermarkets, based in Baltimore, also has a seasonal emphasis on roasts, both beef and pork, and on pork chops, according to Jonah Shore, vice president of meat for the 12-unit chain.

Shore said while turkey sales drop sharply after the holidays, they do continue through the spring.

"We give more space to items that are conducive to the season. We give bigger spreads on roasts, stew cuts and hams," said Shore. He said the chain doesn't remove any other items, just reduces the space allocated to steaks.

Bill Sharp, meat buyer at Perishables Warehouse of Iowa, Ankeny, Iowa, for 219-unit Hy-Vee Food Stores, Chariton, Iowa, said that during November, December and January, chuck and round roasts are its most heavily featured items.

He said the warmer weather this year has not cut into sales, and has actually had a positive effect on the quality of beef on the market.

Typically, he said, of the beef available in the key months, about 50% is Choice grade and 50% is Select grade. But now, with less stress on the animals because of warmer weather, he is seeing more Select grade product.

In the winter months, Falley's likes to promote a variety of items including ground meats, poultry, pork and beef. "We try to get a good mix throughout a four-week period," said Karst. "We stay away from the holiday items such as hams and turkeys for a while."

But by the beginning of next month, the meat sets will be changed in many stores to make way for some quicker-cooking items, according to retailers polled.

"Normally, we start resetting about Easter time, and as far as seasonal change goes, that is a good cut off, because that is when we sell the hams," said Karst. About that same time, retailers start bringing back more steaks and some processed meats, he said.

Tom Buttes, meat supervisor for Megafoods Stores, Mesa, Ariz., which operates 47 stores in Texas and Arizona, said that even though his customers don't have to contend with freezing, snowy winters, they still are adding more winter meats to their menu.s

"So we tend to merchandise with that in mind," he said. "We start merchandising and running ads on roasts and standing ribs, and just more emphasis on traditional meals."

In the summer, said Buttes, "they do eat lighter and we advertise more of the grilling-type items, such as T-bone, porterhouse, rib eye and New York strip steaks."