More digital engagement with customers as well as value-added options, new meal opportunities and filling the need for comfort foods can help retailers and the meat industry maintain the strong sales they’ve experienced in the category over the past year, said speakers during a Meat Conference session last week.
“Supporting meal planning and solutions is going to be huge for our consumers as they start to go back to work,” said John Beretta, group vice president, meat & seafood at Albertsons Cos., the operator of more than 2,200 supermarkets. “They have less time preparing meals. So value-add and really value-add innovation is going to be very important for us to bring in this post-COVID economy.” He added that premiumization in the meat category will also help keep customers buying different cuts and types of meat going forward.
Beretta noted that the economy will continue to be a factor in meat sales this year. “We're going to have to watch the economy closely, along with the customer behavior. Because as we look at the fuel costs going up and commodity costs, I'm sure we can bring value to the customer. That'll be really important to us, especially over this first half of the year. Things that are staples like ground beef and chicken, ensuring that we're bringing value to the customer at shelf.”
It’s an exciting time for the meat industry, said Lisa Selk, vice president marketing, meat products at Hormel Foods. “As I think about general change in the industry and in consumer and shopper behavior sets, that's always where you really find innovation. And new engagements with shoppers and consumers. So it’s super exciting from that standpoint,” she said. “The first consideration is really looking internally though, as we think about how we operate as a business. “We really do need to create that vision for where we want to take the business to have solutions for those consumers and shoppers. If it's uncertain, we definitely need understanding. This is all about empathy for our constituents.”
“Thinking about foods in general, we have people eating for comfort,” Selk continued. “And people eating for health. And both as well. But I think one point is the comfort food position this past year, if you just look at how much bacon was consumed in this past year, comfort was definitely one of those things consumers have been looking for. And so moving forward, how do we fulfill emotional and the physical needs of consumers and shoppers with our solutions?”
“Giving people new ideas for recipes and recipe videos are inspiring a whole new generation of younger cooks. They’re trying it out.” — Lisa Selk, Hormel Foods
Selk and Beretta both agreed that the retail meat industry is seeing permanent customer behavior shifts.
“As we went through this past year, people were probably forced into new behaviors by being kind of locked in their homes for a while,” said Selk. “I think when you have that longevity of behavior change, it's going to stick.”
One way of reaching those consumers is through increased digital engagement. “Digital mediums have been really inspiring,” she said. “Giving people new ideas for recipes and recipe videos are inspiring a whole new generation of younger cooks. They’re trying it out.”
In addition, there has been a huge shift to online shopping, including for fresh meat, which prior to the pandemic was a more challenged online category. “Some people were resisting it before,” noted Selk. But during COVID, they were probably forced to try it out and then found the value budgeting, time-savings, those sorts of benefits. So I think it's around for a while.”
Innovations in meal prep that many consumers discovered during the pandemic are also here to stay. “The air fryer, the pressure cookers, everything that's speeding up that scratch cooking in the home, I think is definitely here to stay,” she said. “And I think there's also a role for this sous chef, the hyper premiumization, the restaurant-quality sort of experience at home. There’s a lot of innovation opportunities for us to deliver.”
“Supporting meal planning and solutions is going to be huge for our consumers as they start to go back to work.” — John Beretta, Albertsons Cos.
On the retail side, Albertsons’ Beretta shared his observations. “What we've seen a lot of and talked about, social and digital and of course e-commerce consumers are gravitating towards that for their shopping behavior. Recipe hunting is big. So they're utilizing that within their pre-shops. It’s important for us as a retailer to bring that to life with our platforms where we can, both online, but even when they're in-store and giving them those ideas and suggestions. There's a lot less frequency of shopping but there's bigger baskets. So that shopping list is even more important than it ever was before.”
“The pandemic also taught the customer that frozen meat and products can be part of a great end-of-week meal or backup meal that's there in the freezer for them. They're all great quality. They're convenient. And they're great to have on hand,” he said. “So I'd say that that category is ripe for innovation as we go forward.”
Beretta also said that as breakfast and lunch has moved to inside the home, there is a great opportunity for retailers and meat producers. “If we've got that consumer that's at home and not going back to work, we've got that captured audience,” he said. “So being very creative with lunch offerings is going to be big for us.”
Meal solutions will continue to be important as consumers emerge from the pandemic. Grocery chains, including Albertsons, are exploring new ways to provide family meals in-store or for pickup or delivery.
Of course, convenience as always continues to be key, said Selk, “especially as we establish what that new normal looks like. It may not be that we all go back to the offices, but maybe our kids’ schedules get going again. So convenience is going to be super key. I think we can accomplish that at retail by providing semi-prepared meals. Think about the sous chef idea where it's maybe not completely from scratch but it's partially put together. So you can get that meal on the table faster.”
“Giving that consumer that offering that they can put in that fridge so they know it's there but they may have to do a little something to it,” said Beretta. “They maybe have to add the salt and pepper. They may have to cut up the salad to go with it on the side. But it’s that protein that we can bring to a value whether it's in a packaging that can go right in the oven or it's packaging that can go right in the microwave. But for consumers, knowing that it's there for them and just being that one step closer to getting it to the table is key.”