The meat department still enjoys the highest sales of all the fresh departments, a number currently pegged at roughly 13% of total-store sales. But compared to 1967, it's a poor number. Because that year, meat and poultry captured just over 24%. Most of the decline occurred during the health-conscious, high-priced 1980s, and it's been a struggle to get consumers to come back. Among the most critical challenges facing the industry, and still very much at the top of the list, has been red meat's inability to change with the times.
And times have changed. People have less time to shop, and less time to prepare food at home. "Convenience" is the word they look for on packaging and listen for in advertisements. And, while suppliers play catch-up with convenience-minded meat products, retail meat department executives need to do something about the time required to peruse the meat case.
New point-of-decision research from the National Pork Board, which tracked consumers' shopping behavior in the meat department, found that the department is full of customers. A full 80% of respondents said they planned on buying meat before even setting foot in the store.
Here's the thing: Once there, shoppers spend an average of four minutes shopping the meat case, compared to one minute in grocery sections. The spread indicates that meat is a "high-involvement" purchase, requiring constant reappraisal during each trip. After all, the prices change, the cuts change and so does the shopper's mind as they check out what's available. What looked like a great deal in the circular may not appear as appetizing in reality.
This attention to detail on the shoppers' part is a prime opportunity for retailers to use on-pack labels or case signage for special promotions or cross-merchandising opportunities. Some 44% said they did not know exactly what cut they would decide upon until arriving at the meat case. What's more, 71% said they do not use a list while shopping for meat. It's a perfect time for the retailer to employ suggestive selling through creative displays and active intercepts like product demoing to steer shoppers to purchases.
Effective merchandising can make a real impact here. The poll shows that there was a 64% recall rate of promotions in the meat department, vs. 54% for the norm.
There's plenty of consumer psychology at play, too. The research revealed that price is considered first, followed by appearance, quality and taste. At the bottom of the list -- surprisingly -- comes a product's perceived healthfulness, lean/fat ratio and safety-related issues.
And, this is also today's meat shopper: a vast majority, 97%, said they do not seek assistance. This number might prompt some retail executives to think about redeploying their service meat associates as floor walkers who are in a better position to reach out to shoppers and guide them, quickly, to purchases, and in the process, perhaps upsell that person on a better cut of meat.
But let's go back to the first number: four minutes. Make every one of them count. Your shoppers are confused, tired and hungry. They could probably use some help, but be careful not to take them hostage.