CHICAGO -- Consumers frequently use less than one-third of the cuts from the meat case and almost never use half of them, according to a study by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Englewood, Colo.
Retailers interviewed by SN agreed with the NCBA's assessment that the market was heavily slanted toward a limited number of meat cuts. However, many reported frequent use of more than one-third of their cuts, and a substantially lower percentage of rarely purchased cuts than was reported by the NCBA.
The NCBA's findings were based on a two-part study. The first part was compiled from video interviews with 46 people who eat meat (beef, pork or chicken) or fish at nine out of 10 meals and the second part was culled from 500 in-person interviews with women only, aged 20 to 64.
Through information obtained in these interviews, the NCBA classified ground beef, boneless chicken breast, steaks and pork chops as among the top staple cuts.
By questioning the second group about 48 cuts of meat (30 beef, 12 pork and six chicken), the NCBA classified an average of 7.9 cuts as "staple" items and 23 as "never used."
Retailers reported better usage of many of their cuts. Of the 40 different cuts of meat sold by Stabler's Marketplace, Tempe, Ariz., owner Tom Stabler concluded that his top two or three cuts make up 50% of his sales, while about 5% are rarely purchased.
At Baesler's Super Valu, Terre Haute, Ind., Joe Martin, meat department manager, said that, of the total 50 meat cuts he sells, about four account for one-third of the purchases and 10% of the cuts available are not often bought.
At the Cincinnati-based biggs Hype Shoppers, Larry Ritzert, meat director and merchandiser, offers over 300 cuts of meat. "My top 20 items would be more than 20% of our sales," he noted. And he added that close to 25% of his items are rarely purchased.
The NCBA study sustains that such skewed buying patterns could lead retailers to discount less popular cuts of meat and thereby cause a loss in profits.
But instead of losing money, many retailers said they have found cost-effective ways around this consumer tendency. Baesler's Martin explained that he merchandised the less popular cuts and put them near the ground beef.
"You generally try to price everything so it flows through as evenly as it can go," said Stabler. "If you can move the whole animal, you can buy goods at a better value and pass those savings on. [But] if you have to buy special cuts, they cost more."
Both Stabler's Stabler and Baesler's Martin cited steaks as popular cuts of beef, and Stabler and biggs' Ritzert mentioned chuck roasts. All three concurred that pork chops and chicken breasts were top sellers.
The NCBA study sustains that consumers unfamiliar with many cuts of meat "tend to stick with what they know," said Kevin Yost, the NCBA's executive director of channel marketing.
Stabler concurred that people buy a limited number of cuts because they aren't familiar with the less popular cuts.
Baesler's Martin reasoned that young people want something quick, and steaks and chops fit the bill. And biggs' Ritzert shared his belief that customers bought these staple cuts because of "ease of cooking, convenience and they know what to do with them."
Ritzert's sentiments underscore another of the NCBA study's main conclusions: that consumers need more and better quality information about the meat department. Signs, demos, recipes and nutritional and cooking information can help customers make better informed, and less habitual, purchases, according to the NCBA.
Despite good efforts all around, biggs' Ritzert noted that the meat case wasn't meeting many of consumers' rapidly changing needs, some of which may not even have been addressed in the NCBA's study.
"I think the future meat case will be subdivided toward cooking times . . . with signage saying what can be cooked in 30 minutes or less," concluded Ritzert.