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Retailers are grinding out poultry sales

Ground poultry has the potential for generating significantly greater meat department activity, but obstacles to expansion remain

Is a health halo a strong enough attribute for enabling ground poultry to become an increasingly stronger supermarket meat department sales driver?

That is the key question facing product merchandisers who must clear a variety of hurdles in order to trigger widespread acceptance of ground chicken and turkey.

While such poultry items as breasts and wings are key revenue generators, boosting demand for less popular grinds is a potential way to add vibrancy to the meat case and expand sector earnings in a flat market, but it necessitates responding to the habitual use of ground beef by many shoppers and consumer unfamiliarity with ground poultry, analysts noted.

“For years, shoppers have used ground beef for many of their recipes, from chili to taco meat,” said Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics LLC, a San Antonio-based market research and marketing strategies firm. “For many shoppers, that pound of ground beef is an automatic stock-up item.”

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Supermarkets can improve ground poultry sales through competitive pricing during specials events like holidays.

While merchandisers risk cannibalizing sales of ground beef by emphasizing the benefits of ground turkey and chicken, the proteins’ different flavor profiles could entice consumers to bring more variety to mealtime, she said.

Healthier choices

Operators can help spur further interest by emphasizing how the poultry products typically are lower in fat than ground beef, according to Barbara Ruhs, founder of MarketRD.com, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based retail-focused nutrition consulting firm, and former dietitian and nutrition spokesperson for Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas’ Inc. supermarket chain.

“Customers generally are not well educated on reading labels,” she said. “So on-pack labeling callouts and other guidance, such as shelf signs in supermarkets listing the amount of saturated fat in the proteins or recommendations by in-store dietitians, can go a long way in helping customers make healthier choices and increase sales of the items.”

Competitively pricing ground turkey and chicken during key eating occasions, such as for holiday appetizers and Super Bowl snacking, also can improve sales, Ruhs said.

Supermarket operators, meanwhile, can provide in-store samples of such ground poultry selections as meatballs, sliders and taco filling “to help customers gain confidence that the taste isn’t drastically different,” Ruhs stated.

It also is important for retailers to work with registered dietitians to strategize signage and shelf-tag options to help provide a uniform solution to customer education, she noted. That can include affixing heart-healthy tags to relevant products or using the American Heart Association’s heart check-certified labeling on items.

In addition, retailers targeting health-conscious shoppers should advise consumers to seek lean ground poultry that does not include dark meat and skin in order to limit saturated fat and cholesterol, Caroline West Passerrello, former dietitian for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle Inc. and spokesperson for the Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an organization of food and nutrition professionals, told Supermarket News.

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Supermarkets can train meat department employees to educate shoppers about the nutrition benefits of ground poultry.

Chicken over beef

Supermarket operators without a dietitian in every store can instruct meat department employees on the nutrition benefits of ground poultry so they too can knowledgably assist shoppers, she added.

“Retailers also can provide recipes that use ground poultry as an alternative because there will always be customers who prefer chicken over beef,” said Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition, a New York-based health and wellness firm and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Marketers, he added, can emphasize the use of ground poultry along with stir fry, spaghetti, vegetables, and boxed macaroni and cheese to increase the protein content of the selections.

The potential for getting shoppers to consider ground turkey and poultry, meanwhile, is strong as 42% of shoppers indicate that they are willing to try something new or different if advised, according to the Power of Meat 2018 report, published by the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute and the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Meat & Poultry Research & Education and prepared by 210 Analytics LLC.

“This is a huge opportunity for the meat industry to inform and educate shoppers to drive trial,” the Power of Meat notes. “The importance is underscored by the fact that shoppers who buy a wide variety of items tend to prepare meat/poultry more often.”

Seventy-five percent of such shoppers include meat in five to seven dinners in a typical week, versus just 50% of those who buy a handful of different items, says the report.

Retailers, meanwhile, can better spotlight the availability of ground poultry by situating selections alongside beef grinds in meat departments to create a “one-stop destination” for the ground category, said Nick Acosta, fresh meat category manager for Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Markets.

“Many customers will visit the ground beef set and not think about ground chicken as an option,” he noted. “But combining the two will capture that added sale from a ground chicken customer. This leads to more opportunities for ground poultry as the ground beef set is the most visited section of the department.”

Rouses offers 85% to 99% lean ground chicken and ground turkey and includes the items in its main ground beef display in order to showcase all available grinds, Acosta said.

He added that it is important to educate wellness-oriented shoppers on ground poultry as many will be willing to substitute ground poultry for ground beef in recipes and become repeat buyers.

Promotional methods can include spotlighting the benefits of ground poultry in ads and providing in-store sampling of the grinds, he stated.

“Healthy eating becomes the focal point for many customers in January,” Acosta said. “It is the perfect time to demo ground poultry dishes and educate consumers that ground poultry is a healthy alternative to ground beef and can taste fantastic at the same time.”

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