ORLANDO, Fla. — On-pack labels highlighting nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and zinc lifted beef sales significantly and boosted customer loyalty in a 16-week test run by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association at selected Marsh Supermarket units.
Indeed, the results were so positive — showing, among other things, a hike of 6% in dollar beef sales at Marsh banner stores — that the chain has since rolled out the nutrition labeling to all its stores, under its Marsh, LoBill Foods and O'Malia's Food Markets banners.
Marsh's vice president of meat merchandising, Dewayne Wulff, said he is very encouraged by what the test revealed.
“We are very pleased with the results,” he said. “It is a new standard of meat labeling that our customers now expect, and it differentiates us in the marketplace.”
The results of the test and the benefits of positive nutrition labeling were outlined by Randy Irion, NCBA's director of retail marketing, at the Annual Meat Conference sponsored by the American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute in conjunction with meat and poultry trade groups.
Mary K. Young, NCBA's executive director of nutrition, sharing the podium with Irion, described healthy aspects of beef that could override consumers' concerns about saturated fat. Those healthy aspects, such as beef's zinc, iron and protein content, are noted on the on-pack labeling. In addition, Young pointed out that 29 cuts of beef are lean by the government's definition. Ten of the 12 most popular cuts are defined as lean, she said.
Young also cited statistics that show eight in 10 consumers “are concerned about nutrition,” and nearly half say they “should be eating healthier.”
The atmosphere is decidedly right for appealing to consumers who want more nutrition information, Irion told SN in an interview following the conference. That's one of the reasons NCBA decided to run the test, funded by the beef checkoff program, last summer. It was intended to update a similar test program NCBA ran in 2003 at selected Harris Teeter and Fry's Supermarkets units, and it did validate the earlier findings that customers were more likely to buy beef when nutritional benefits were available on-pack in the meat case. In fact, the new results were even more positive.
The 2006 test in Marsh and Marsh's LoBill banner stores shows that 52% of customers in intercept interviews at the end of the test period said they had learned more about beef's nutritional contribution to a healthy diet.
That represents a hike of nearly 20% over the 33% who said that in intercepts after the 2003 program. What's more, this time, 32% said the on-pack labeling would bring them back into that store to do their grocery shopping.
The 2006 study showed the on-pack nutritional labeling increased both dollar and pound sales of beef for both of Marsh's banner chains where the test was run.
Marsh Supermarkets experienced increases of 6% in dollar sales and 1% in pound sales compared to similar control stores.
LoBill Foods stores experienced increases of 2% in dollar sales and 4% in pound sales compared to similar control stores.
By comparison, the results from the 2003 study, which was done in two waves, showed a 2% rise in beef dollar sales after the first few weeks, and then a 5% increase after the second wave.
“The whole point of this is to turn on-pack labeling into a positive. It's a business opportunity,” Irion said.
He pointed out in his presentation that general nutrition labeling on beef is currently “punitive,” showing fat content and calorie content, but none of the very helpful ingredients like zinc, iron and B vitamins.
“Beef contains nine essential nutrients that fuel healthy, active lives, and we want consumers to know about them,” Irion said. “Today's meat case has minimal nutrition labeling and no health claims. It doesn't tell the complete nutrition story, or beef's positives. Its profile [as currently shown in meat cases] is punitive.”
Irion said NCBA wants consumers to know that iron helps children's mental development, zinc helps fight colds and strengthens the immune system, and some B vitamins help the body turn fat into energy.
On-pack labeling in the test program indicated that beef is an excellent source of protein, zinc, vitamin B12, selenium and phosphorus, and is a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, iron and riboflavin. This is the information on the expanded labels Marsh has rolled out to all its stores.
Point-of-sale materials underscored beef's positive nutrient story and its benefits.
In the Marsh test, a dual declaration was used on ground beef — i.e., its nutrient content cooked, as well as raw. There is less fat in cooked ground beef.
The methodology involved putting expanded nutrition labeling on every pack of beef in the meat case in 20 Marsh stores and 20 LoBill stores, and then comparing sales with sales in similar control stores.
At the end of the test period, a third party conducted in-store intercept interviews to determine customers' attitudes toward beef and the on-pack nutrition labeling.
“What struck me most was that the labeling did very well in both venues,” Irion told SN. “It was positive across the board, in both Marsh and LoBill stores, showing it cut across income levels.”
Lobill is a more price-sensitive format, where the customer base's average income level is about $20,000 less a year than the average Marsh banner customer.
NCBA is currently working with two other East Coast supermarket chains to launch a similar on-pack labeling test program that could start as early as this spring.
“We're looking to have the results by fall 2007. It's our way of getting ahead of the curve, before the new nutritional guidelines come out,” Irion said.