The sector of the food-distribution industry that has to do with meat -- from packing to retail -- gathered in Kansas City, Mo., at the weekend for the Annual Meat Marketing Conference. The event runs through Tuesday.
Those at the show are participating in a variety of workshops ranging from profitability to e-commerce to retail tours. The meeting comes at an especially portentous time for the meat industry, given all the changes that are currently buffeting the sector.
Let's take a look at just three of those issues, as they are portrayed in this week's SN and as they have been highlighted in a couple of issues of SN published last month.
Food Safety: This is a topic that has to be at the head of nearly any list of critical issues that concerns meat merchandising. This also represents an issue that could grow to becomes the Achilles heel of the industry, if it hasn't already. Food-safety concerns come in two forms: The actual and the perceived. Unquestionably, there are many real food-safety problems that must be solved to ensure that consumers remain confident about the fundamental safety of the product. The other element is the drumbeat of negative publicity that sounds from the media, especially from the television expose. One of the more recent examples of this happened to Winn-Dixie Stores, which was accused in a broadcast report of selling out-of-date meat. An Agricultural Department inspection in the wake of that publicity turned up a handful of violations.
Incidentally, Winn-Dixie sounded just the right note to diffuse the situation: A spokesman put out a statement to the effect that the company was grateful for any information about problems so they could be investigated and corrected. That's all that needs be said. (SN, March 6, Page 1.)
Irradiation: In a food-safety related matter, much attention has been generated lately by the Food and Drug Administration's final ruling that permits meat to join the roster of products that can be treated with radiant energy. The process has all the potential to help ameliorate the food-safety problem, especially for ground beef. It may also change some of the production and distribution dynamics of the industry. For instance, if meat irradiation becomes the norm, it also may promote central preparation. After all, it would make little sense to centrally treat product, which would later be cut and packaged in store. (SN, March 20, Page 1, and many other issues.)
Product changes: As you'll see in the news feature referenced off Page 1 of this week's SN, meat merchandisers are increasingly sensitive to the fact that a case set that may work well in one location won't do so in another location. Many retailers are taking into account local demographics. One meat manager cited in the feature article tells how he set the meat case with an eye toward nearby residents from the Caribbean, and to what the particular buying needs of that population will be. That example was drawn from a new Pathmark supermarket in New York's Queens borough. You'll see a number of other examples concerning other demographics mentioned in the news feature.