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Technology and customer-centric strategies transform meat department into destination

Technology and customer-centric strategies transform meat department into destination

A focus on the essentials and technology of the meat case.  Sponsored by Hillphoenix.

Across the globe, people are eating more meat than ever, and American consumers lead the pack. The average American ate 71 pounds of red meat (beef, veal, pork and lamb) and 54 pounds of poultry (chicken and turkey) in 2012, the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The appetite for meat is a huge, high-margin opportunity for supermarkets looking to offset competition from discount and online retailers and build loyalty with local shoppers. In the consumer’s mind, meat that’s purchased locally from a trusted grocer best ensures it is fresh and safe.

But a fresh meat department presents challenges, too. Grocers must ensure they’re refrigerating and displaying meat properly to reduce waste and increase sales. They also have to be open to changes that can improve meat quality and freshness — and lead to higher profits.

Hillphoenix Marketing & Design Specialist Margie Proctor breaks down the meat case, focusing on essentials and highlighting better technology that is reducing waste and labor and driving shopper engagement.

Temperature and Product Integrity

“The most important aspect of a meat or seafood display case is proper, consistent temperature,” Proctor says. “Bacteria and enzymes are present in all fish and meat, but they only cause problems when holding temperatures rise above what’s recommended. If you want shoppers to buy — and come back to buy again — keep your displayed meats and seafood at appropriate temperatures so product looks and smells fresh.”

One way to improve temperature accuracy and consistency is by shifting from traditional gravity, serpentine convection cooling, where circulated air refrigerates the product, to conduction cooling technology, Proctor says. “Conduction technology circulates coolant through enclosed channels in deck pans below the product. The meat or seafood is cooled evenly and consistently at all times.”

No matter the case or cooling type, she notes, meat department employees should check and record temperatures of refrigerated cases several times a day to make sure product stays at the optimal temperature.

Humidity and Moisture

“Meat that loses moisture loses weight, and that reduces its price,” Proctor says. “Plus, dried-out, discolored meat and seafood simply won’t sell.”

Here, again, improved refrigerated case technology can help. “Our conduction-cooled cases use a small gravity coil at the top to temper the air and encourage just enough air flow to push moisture-preserving humidity down near the product,” she says.

But grocers also can take low-tech, common-sense steps to keep meat fresh. One tip from Proctor: Don’t over cut. “Only display what you’re likely to sell that day. Over-merchandising can affect integrity. Customers are expecting to purchase fresh product, not cuts left over from the previous day.” But, she notes, grocers should be prepared for an unexpected rush by having team members available to cut additional product, as needed.

Display and Service

Proctor recommends that grocers stand in front of their meat displays and do an assessment. What does the customer see? Does case lighting enhance the redness of meat, or give it an off-putting, brown or grayish hue? Are scales visible? Are workstations set up with wrap boards and paper holders attached to the case, so employees don’t turn their backs on customers?

Making your meat department an engaging destination for shoppers means rethinking employees roles, Proctor advises. Here the newer cooling technology also can play a role. A conduction cooler can as much as double the display life of a cut of meat, and the meat doesn’t need to be repackaged and stored elsewhere overnight. “Just cover it with butcher paper at the end of the day. And because there’s no ice beneath the product, cleanup is quicker, too,” Proctor says.

“That frees employees to focus more time and energy on serving customers,” she says. “Train them to educate customers about cuts of meat, cooking temperatures and recipes. Offer cooking demonstrations, and train employees how to recommend wine and beer pairings for specific cuts of meat or seafood. Transform your employees from laborers to customers’ trusted advisers.”

Meat has the potential to be a high-demand, high-margin seller, and new cooling technology reduces grocers’ traditional risk of waste, Proctor says. “A meat case with improved cooling technology is an investment with a strong rate of return.”

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