MONTVALE, N.J. — As part of ongoing efforts to reinvigorate its fresh food departments, A&P has partnered with Austin, Texas-based Premium Gold Angus Beef to become the exclusive Northeastern retailer of the supplier's premium, genetically certified Black Angus steaks, roasts and grinds.
Late last month, the brand began its official rollout at more than 350 A&P banner stores in the Northeast, including A&P, SuperFresh, Waldbaum's and The Food Emporium.
At a press luncheon held for the program's launch, A&P Executive Chairman Christian Haub said that the new line offers shoppers “a higher-quality, superior taste experience” and presents a great example of A&P's ongoing efforts to expand and emphasize the selection of premium, center-of-the-plate options in the company's perishables departments. (See “A&P Adds Ritzy Meat, Seafood Offerings,” SN, April 30, Page 23.)
Several genetic traits of the Black Angus cattle have helped ranchers create a premium image for the breed, explained Dwight Hartley, founder and chief executive officer, PGA Beef. Angus cattle convert faster on feedlots than any other breed, and they will grade USDA Choice at only 20 months old. Slaughter weights are very consistent, and the breed produces beef with excellent marbling and a vertical grain, making steaks significantly more tender than those from most other types of cattle.
The benefit, Hartley said, is both quality and uniformity. “Time and time again, you get the same product,” he said.
Hartley argued that the beef industry has suffered from a lack of premium branding initiatives, despite huge variations in what cattle in the U.S. are fed, the climate where they are raised, their age at slaughter and their breed. All of these factors can significantly impact the flavor and tenderness of the meat produced by cattle, he said.
Certified breed programs had been making some headway in this regard, but current U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations permit the use of “Certified Angus” marketing claims on any meats sourced from cattle that have at least a 51% black hide coat. The simplicity of this requirement has caused the claim to become more widespread — fast-food chains now offer Certified Angus burgers, for example — but consumers of these products may not be getting the high quality and consistency that originally made the breed such a standout, said Hartley. In fact, they may be getting beef from animals that, genetically, have no relation to Angus cattle at all.
“It's good that consumers are hearing the word [Angus] more often, but the problem is, the breed has been diluted,” he said.
Clarence Oliver, A&P's senior director of meat, who oversaw the development of the new program, agreed.
“You're starting to see a lot of ‘Angus-type’ or ‘Angus-influenced’ products on the market,” Oliver told SN. “But [the USDA] criteria is not enough. This program truly deals with the Angus breed.”
PGA Beef ensures that its products are all genetically 100% Angus through a DNA verification program developed by ViaGen, the Austin, Texas-based animal genomics firm. According to Hartley, every animal processed by PGA Beef receives the test.
For Memorial Day weekend, the start of the summer grilling season, A&P took a segmented approach to rollout, offering varying specials on the product line throughout the New York metropolitan region. Food Emporium locations in Manhattan, for example, were offering PGA rib-eye steaks for $16.99 per pound, 85% lean ground beef at $4.99 per pound and skirt steaks at $9.99 per pound. Meanwhile, Walbaum's locations on Long Island and A&P locations in New Jersey featured bone-in rib-eyes for $8.99 per pound, 80% lean ground beef for $2.99 per pound and boneless shoulder steaks or London broil for $3.99 per pound.
Promotional materials highlight not only the premium quality of the product and the fact that no artificial hormones or antibiotics were used during the beef's production, but also the heritage of the breed and its origin on Midwestern family ranches.
“Authentic Heritage: Premium Gold Angus Beef has a lineage going back to 1877 when the Angus breed was first brought here from Scotland,” reads an advertisement currently on A&P banner websites. “Today, their direct descendants are bred and raised on Midwestern ranches where the cool climate, sweet grass, corn and alfalfa hay they eat combine to produce the most delicious beef you ever tasted.”
Using an in-store marketing technique popularized by Whole Foods Markets, a comprehensive point-of-sale program emphasizes the quality and authenticity of the product primarily by highlighting the Hartley family and their history as sixth-generation Angus breeders and ranchers. Double-sided store danglers, for example, feature large photos of Hartley; his son, PGA Beef President Justin Hartley; and his daughter, Vice President Kristen Hartley Lindquist on one side, and plated shots of cooked steaks and gourmet burgers on the other.
In addition, to ensure that shoppers understand what differentiates this brand of Angus beef from others on the market, store staff have access to “Frequently Asked Questions” cards, as well as break-room posters that list talking points about the new brand.
For the summer launch, A&P has also developed a 12-page grilling brochure that includes information about the products, as well as recipes and tips on selecting good cuts of meat and cooking them properly.
Finally, “in a sign of the confidence we have for this brand, A&P is going to offer an unmatched guarantee — triple their money back if a shopper isn't completely satisfied,” noted Sal Baio, vice president of fresh foods for A&P, during the press luncheon.