RETAILERS USE VALUE TO SHOULDER BEEF SALES

LANCASTER, Pa. -- Independent retailers here are promoting a little-known cut of beef -- the flat-iron steak -- with excellent sales results.Alerting consumers that this cut is good for the grill, the taste buds and the pocketbook has been the focus of the grilling season for them. They're using point-of-purchase materials, having demos, participating in local events and doing a lot of talking. As

LANCASTER, Pa. -- Independent retailers here are promoting a little-known cut of beef -- the flat-iron steak -- with excellent sales results.

Alerting consumers that this cut is good for the grill, the taste buds and the pocketbook has been the focus of the grilling season for them. They're using point-of-purchase materials, having demos, participating in local events and doing a lot of talking. As a result, they're bolstering their meat sales, and could be building an edge in a competitive market populated by national chains like Giant Food, Giant of Carlisle and Weis Markets.

But, flat-iron steaks? It's a cut that isolates the tenderest muscles in the beef animal's shoulder. Not new, but sometimes sold as "chicken steak" in the past, the cut -- along with other "beef value cuts" -- is getting a push from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. NCBA is promoting a series of shoulder cuts, some of them newly engineered or better-trimmed, in an effort to make underused parts of the carcass more appealing to consumers. Usually beef shoulder has been destined for pot roast, but the isolated cuts are suited for grilling.

Once the rain stopped in this area and people wheeled out their grills, sales got good. In fact, Darrenkamp's Markets, Willow Valley, Pa., couldn't be happier.

"Sales are incredible, five times better than what I thought they'd be. It's repeat business. Just this weekend, I waited on three people myself who bought more than seven of them at a time. One woman bought 14 for a cookout, and a man who bought nine said he wanted to give some to a friend to try," said Larry Darrenkamp, co-owner of three-unit Darrenkamp's.

"We run a service [meat] department, and we just keep talking. If I see someone reading the materials, I'll show them a flat-iron. I may give them one. I just ask that they come back in and tell me how they liked it," he said.

Darrenkamp admitted his retail price of $3.99 a pound has a lot to do with driving sales. In fact, if he weren't selling the rest of the shoulder, he'd not be breaking even with that retail, he said.

"But we get a two-piece shoulder. There are two flat-irons right off the top of the blade, and the rest we sell as a roasts or London broil."

The Pennsylvania Beef Council, an affiliate of the Denver-based NCBA, has supplied local retailers with POP materials and recipes, and has incorporated flat-iron steaks in community events. But the best sales stimulus so far came from the local media.

"The paper here [in Lancaster] ran an article about flat-irons last month, and my sales went through the roof. We had been selling maybe 20 a week per store. That article, I think, hit on a Tuesday and just in the remainder of that week, we sold 150 at each," Darrenkamp said.

Another independent -- who, like Darrenkamp's, is supplied by Robesonia, Pa.-based Associated Wholesalers -- gave the story credit.

"We had flat-irons on special at $3.99 the week the article appeared, and we easily sold as many of those as we did boneless sirloins, which are always a big seller," said John Gerlach, meat buyer/merchandiser, at four-unit Stauffers of Kissel Hill, based in Lititz, Pa. Even at an everyday price of $5.99, sales continue to grow, Gerlach said. He's displaying a laminated copy of the article at the meat counter.

The future for flat-iron steaks as well as other newly touted shoulder cuts is good, suppliers and retailers told SN.

"Sales in our [Pennsylvania] market are good," said Rick Fetrow, senior field sales consultant for IBP/Tyson Fresh Meats, Dakota Dunes, S.D. "We're working on a denuded top blade that will have all the outside surface fat off, to reduce [trim] time."