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Meat retailers are reaping the reward of bargain hunters

Value-driven shoppers are increasing their purchasing

The prices of many fresh meat varieties are on the decline, and that is proving to be an attractive selling point for retailers.

The average price of fresh chicken fell 5.1% for the 13 weeks ending Oct. 8 vs. the year-earlier period, contributing to a 2.7% increase in volume sales, reports Circana, a Chicago-based market research firm. In addition, pork and turkey had price declines of 1.4% and 1.6%, respectively.

While beef prices increased 6.3%, primarily because of smaller herd sizes, volume sales fell just 2.7%.

Grinds, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly popular. Volume sales of ground chicken, turkey, and pork were up 13%, 6.4%, and 1%, respectively, over the 13 weeks, with price declines of 3%, 3.6%, and 0.7%. Ground lamb sales grew 8.4% with a price decline of 8.6%.

Volume sales of ground beef, which account for 42.1% of beef sector dollar sales, declined just 0.5% despite a 6.7% price increase.

The reason for the uptick in the popularity of grinds is because of the ability for consumers to incorporate the ingredients in multiple recipes. Situating a variety of ground proteins in a single display can further boost category sales, said Chris DuBois, Circana executive vice president of the protein practice.

“It makes it easier for consumers to shop for ground meats and a way to create a platform for new recipes. You do not want to make consumers hunt for it,” he said.

Retailers, meanwhile, are likely to generate even greater activity by highlighting the declining meat department prices, DuBois said. “Shoppers are used to seeing high supermarket costs, especially in the center store, but chicken, pork, and turkey are good deals and even lamb is coming down,” he said. “Suddenly we are back to prices from a few years ago but it hasn’t trickled into the consciousness of consumers yet.”

Price is a priority

In a 2023 Circana consumer survey, 95% of respondents indicated that price is either “more important” or “as important” as last year when it comes to buying fresh chicken. Maintaining attractive chicken prices is vital, as 82% of consumers eat chicken at least weekly, reported the Centennial, Colo-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

Using meat case signage that compares the cost of a home-cooked meat meal to the far greater expense of dining out is a powerful way to educate shoppers on pricing, DuBois said, noting that “you only get about 17 seconds to alter somebody’s choice when they are shopping.”

More retailers are addressing consumers’ quest for value by also promoting meat and offering greater discounts more frequently, said Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics LLC, a San Antonio-based market research and marketing strategies firm and author of the Power of Meat 2023 report.

Measures retailers can take include one-day sales, bundling items into meal discounts, and merchandising additional lower-priced private label and value cuts, Roerink said.

“Rather than a singular focus on price, consumers sometimes focus on ultra value, whereas other times it’s about finding a good deal,” she said. “But sales patterns continue to reflect a consumer who is balancing how much, what, and where they purchase, with a big emphasis on sales specials.”

Promotions are powerful

In addition, more operators are leveraging shopper willingness to spend more for special occasions and celebrations by being creative and spotlighting self-invented holidays and events, such as a “Beef Stampede,” Roerink said.

“Some retailers also are reading the market and creating new promotions when they can offer favorable pricing and product availability instead of following the typical year-over-year merchandising patterns,” she said. “Others are stressing a fun and engaging shopping environment by bringing back sampling, providing fun recipes, and doing cook-alongs with their guests.”

Retailers can generate further interest by incorporating additional product signage and utilizing online messaging that educates shoppers on the cuts that they will likely be comfortable preparing at home, said Laura Hinton, NCBA senior director of channel marketing.

Having a strong digital marketing presence is essential for sustaining and boosting sales of fresh meats, DuBois said, including offering online recipes and meal suggestions.

“It crosses many age groups as additional people go online to shop, find coupons, and get meal ideas,” he said, adding that a quadruple increase in ground pork sales in recent years has been largely the result of recipes going viral.

Major payback also can occur from having knowledgeable butchers and meat department managers engage with shoppers, DuBois said. “It makes a ton of difference between a great performing and an average performing department,” he said. “It is worth so much to have a butcher who can talk to customers and have them feel great about a purchase.”

Hinton agreed: “A retailer who provides their store staff with education on beef cuts and cooking methods can increase customer loyalty and accentuate the eating experience,” she said.

A product’s quality and flavor, however, also remain key elements for sustaining and growing activity, Roerink said, noting that consumer surveys reveal “it tasted great” or “my family likes it” are the top reasons driving repeat business. “The meat department has an opportunity to lean into emotional wellbeing, a.k.a. happiness.”

Highlighting attractive prices, however, will persist as a crucial merchandising tactic, DuBois said. That can include spotlighting the 13.2% decline in average chicken wings costs; the 9.3% decrease for pork ribs; and the 9% decline for chicken legs.

“Shoppers are used to seeing high prices in the supermarket, but many meat department prices have declined,” he said. “There is still room to get consumers’ attention and change their minds” about the value of meats.

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