Prepared meats are proving to be a most potent sales performer.
Demand for the traditionally higher-priced, value-added selections remain solid despite inflation with the sector’s dollar and volume growth rates outperforming those of the overall meat department. Consumers want convenience and easy-to-prepare meals, particularly younger shoppers, and those two factors have been key sales drivers for selections that include pre-marinated, pre-cut and pre-seasoned options.
The share of shoppers purchasing value-added meat and poultry rose from 37% in 2016 to 67% in 2022, according to the Power of Meat 2022 report, published by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education.
In the report, twenty-eight percent of buyers cited saving time as the major purchase factor, followed by superior taste (22%), preparing something different (20%) and no need to buy all the different ingredients (13%).
Sixty-eight percent of consumers, meanwhile, indicated that they would like to see an expanded assortment of value-added items at their primary meat department, as do 83% of frequent value-added meat users.
According to food industry consulting firm Menu Matters, demand for value-added meat and poultry was projected to further increase during the holiday season. The increase was attributed to both holiday entertaining, as well as more meals being made at home due to a return to the office.
“Some consumers undoubtedly found scratch preparation at home somewhat tedious, so these options, particularly ready-to-cook, allow consumers to still be engaged in the food they are serving or consuming at home but without the more extensive time and effort required to prepare something entirely from scratch,” said Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters.
Pinpointing the selections that are most appropriate for each supermarket’s unique shopper base, meanwhile, is vital for sustaining activity. Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Friendly Markets, which operates 150 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, uses internal data on shopper purchasing behavior and demographics to help determine its value-added options.
Tops’ store-made value-added items include center cut stuffed pork chops, stuffed boneless pork chops, marinated boneless chicken breasts, beef and boneless chicken breast kabobs, and beef sirloin kabobs.
Options prepared by outside suppliers include marinated pork tenderloins and loin fillets, chicken cordon bleu, chicken with broccoli and cheese, stuffed pork chops, breaded chicken garlic parmesan, beef sirloin kabobs and marinated boneless chicken breasts. These items help with labor shortages and additionally aid in maintaining consistency.
Offering historically popular value-added items is a good strategy, but retailers will also benefit by merchandising newer prepared recipes on a “trial and error” basis, said Jeff Culhane, Tops senior vice president of sales and merchandising.
“It will take a few weeks to see if an item is really selling or not,” he said. “Sometimes you will find a gem within that offering, while items that you thought would be amazing are not. If you do not fail, you are not trying. Every amazing item had to start out as a trial sometime.”
Tops, he noted, uses recipes that are easy for meat department associates to prepare, while engaging outside suppliers for more complex items.
“You just need an eye for detail to make sure the products are consistent time after time after time,” Culhane said, adding that limits to available refrigerated space is one of the biggest merchandising challenges and results in stores marketing some items on a seasonal basis along with having limited time offers.
Despite the typically higher cost of valued-added meats, Culhane said demand remains strong, particularly because many consumers still are seeking prepared meals that cost less than restaurant menu items.
It is important, however, for supermarkets to keep the prepared offerings attractive by continually offering additional selections, said Rick Stein, FMI vice president of fresh foods.
“Fatigue of cooking at home is driving value-added,” he stated. “The customer is going to feel that same fatigue when they visit the store if I offer the same value-added items year-round. Part of the challenge is trying to figure out when to phase in selections and when to phase them out.”
Retailers can further energize the category by teaming with their suppliers to develop merchandising plans for value-added meats, including selecting the SKUs to offer in each situation, Stein said.
“Suppliers often have an idea of what resonates with different consumer groups,” he said. “You want strong partners that are thinking about the future while helping determine how to move in and out of different products and the cadence in which to do so.”
Meanwhile, Stein said that prominently displaying fresh value-added selections, rather than relying on signage, is often the most effective way to spur buying activity, which can include situating all prepared products together in the case instead of grouping value-added and conventional items by species.
“Many of our members say in-store signage is important, but consumers say the product talks to them more than the signage, which often becomes oblivious,” Stein said. “Shoppers miss ninety-nine percent of the messaging in stores because they are looking at the products and not the messaging. We underestimate how difficult it is to get instore signage across to the consumer. The product in the meat case tends to speak for itself.”