With the onset of cold weather and the holiday season under way, meat department executives are counting on their winter case resets to meet the change in consumer demands and boost fourth-quarter sales.
While some retail meat executives accomplish this switch through a combination of promotions and cross-merchandising tactics, others say they need to look for ways to make what is traditionally a subtle change more visible to customers.
The shift in a consumer's meal preference, say from a grilled burger to a beef roast, may often be unconscious, but it is something meat departments must stay on top of to ensure dollar sales stay strong. Thus, it is crucial to have on-hand the items that consumers desire during the winter months, said executives polled by SN.
Even in California, where there is little in the way of drastic temperature change to mark the change of seasons, the fourth quarter brings a change in merchandising strategies.
"More than changing schematics, what we really do is start advertising winter products," said the buyer for a mid-size California retailer. "By that, I mean the roasts, the stew cuts and the veal breasts.
"The things you wouldn't put in the oven in the summer
with 100 degrees outside all now sound very luscious and appetizing," he said.
More attention should be paid to adjusting sets seasonally, he added.
"We probably should spend more time resetting and remerchandising the meat case for the winter season, but we don't. I don't think it's really been addressed well enough."
In the retail meat cases, he said, "generally you are underspaced. There really isn't enough room to expand on whatever it is you want.
"We do expand, maybe 15%, at most, on a category. But it is not something that you would readily recognize. Whereas in the produce department, you can see the changeover from the soft fruits to apples, but you don't see that in the meat department."
It's not that the items focused on in the winter are really seasonal items, they are offered year-round, noted Robert Buehler, meat department supervisor for Buehler Foods, Wooster, Ohio. "But the movement of certain products, such as all of the chuck roasts, rounds and round steaks, picks up.
"The most important thing is, you are in the business to give customers what they want to buy," said Buehler.
"A lot of it is just common sense: People's eating habits change, and we like to make it easier for them to find [winter meat products] in our cases." In an effort to meet the seasonal preference for longer cooking type items, all the retailers polled said they reset their meat cases and brought in more roasts, and more soup and stew items. They also found room to accommodate the holiday demand for turkeys and hams.
While retailers reported a variety of seasonal meat promotions, including turkey giveaways and cooking contests, several said they also are doing more cross-merchandising of the meat case in the winter.
"We do get into more cross-merchandising with spices in our case," said the buyer for the California chain. "We have a heavy Hispanic population, and we offer the tamale fixings and try those types of things."
Walt Frewin, meat merchandiser for Randalls Food Markets, Houston, said that, with his company's big push on hams and turkeys for the holidays, it will offer all the turkey pans, glazes and "things that go along with it."
Buehler Foods also does a lot of cross-merchandising in its stores, including tie ins with other departments for products that are geared toward "fixing a roast or preparing a spaghetti sauce with ground meat," according to Robert Buehler.
Cub Foods, St. Joseph, Mo., division builds displays of stuffing mix and "so forth" along with its turkeys, and roasts are cross-merchandised with a variety of spices, said Duane Koehler, division meat merchandiser.
Frewin of Randalls said his company also resets its meat cases every year at this time.
"We reduce the steaks and expand on our roasts. We also expand on our soup section, and that includes the soup bones, the stew meat and oxtail." While Randalls carries these items all year-round, "we probably double the size on those sections over the regular part of the year," said Frewin.
"And, of course, for the holidays, we expand on the hams and turkeys for the winter."
Brodbeck Enterprises, Platteville, Wis., which operates stores under the Dick's Supermarket banner, also modifies its meat cases a few times a year.
"You open up and spread out the colder winter type items such as roasts. We double the size of our soup and stew section, and double the size of the beef roast and pork roast section," said Alan Warren, meat director.
The company also doubles the size of its ham displays, including bone-in, boneless and smoked products, said Warren.
Little adjustment is made to poultry displays in the winter, however.
"For chicken we don't really cut back because it is still growing in tonnage and sells well year-round."
A store-level employee in a Byerly's meat department said this time of year it emphasizes more oven-ready products, such as meat loaves, chuck roasts and all types of stuffed products, such as stuffed chops.
"The prepared meats are a big thing this time of year," said the meat department representative. "That is what we really focus on."