Following a successful test at Indianapolis-based Marsh Supermarkets, two East Coast chains — Ukrop's, Richmond, Va., and Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine — have rolled out a micronutrient labeling program for beef products developed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, according to Randy Irion, director of retail marketing for NCBA.
Dewayne Wulff, Marsh's vice president, meat merchandising, told SN that he had been pleased with the program since its initial rollout almost 18 months ago.
“We saw a definite lift in beef sales shortly after we started the program, and it's been worth it. We'll do the same with pork when the time comes,” Wulff said.
The new labels, which highlight nutrients such as B vitamins, zinc and iron in beef, are only about half an inch longer than the labels the company had been using previously, and Wulff said the transition was fairly simple.
“Initially it took several hours of programming, but then that was all. We didn't need new equipment, and it didn't take any more labor than the hours spent on programming [computerized scales].”
Marsh chose to use signage above its meat cases calling attention to the new labeling and to offer brochures that outline the benefits of beef's micronutrients.
“I think anytime you can show a customer the benefits of beef or any product, it's a good thing to do. And this puts us ahead of the curve if and when the government mandates nutrition labeling on fresh meat,” Wulff said.
NCBA's Irion noted that these types of promotions are only possible if micronutrient content is listed on the product itself with a label. Otherwise, regulations prohibit the making of claims about the benefits of micronutrients on point-of-sale or take-away materials.
“You can't make any claims without telling consumers how much of the nutrient is in the product,” Irion said. “For instance, we want to tell people zinc helps fight colds by strengthening their immune systems, that iron helps children's mental development and that some B vitamins help the body turn fat into energy, but micronutrient labeling has to come first.”
“The success at Marsh told us the results we got from early test markets were no fluke,” Irion said.
Ukrop's and Hannaford Bros. rolled out the program during 2007. Officials at those chains were not available for comment at press time.
“Consumers say they appreciate seeing the additional nutrients listed on the labels, and we see it as a business opportunity,” Irion said. “Why would you want to just put the calories and fat content on beef labels, when you can also have these very positive ingredients listed?”
Although nutrition labeling for beef products is not yet mandated by the government, a growing number of retailers and suppliers are including the information. Twenty-four percent of whole muscle cuts at retail featured nutrition labeling, according to the 2007 National Meat Case Study, sponsored by Cryovac, the Beef Checkoff Program and the Pork Checkoff Program. That's up from 16% in the 2004 Meat Case Study. For ground beef, it was 77% in 2007, up from 68% in 2004.
“Retailers, without being required by law, are doing the nutrition labeling because they're looking to do what customers want,” Irion said.
New research published by Mintel, a Chicago-based consumer research firm, shows that “health reasons drive some consumers toward a vegetarian lifestyle.” Possibly showing those consumers the positive micronutrients in beef could keep them from turning away from the meat case.
A beef supplier, John Butler, told SN recently that he spent three days in front of a meat case when he was launching a proprietary-label natural beef line last fall, and he was impressed by consumers' questions.
“My unscientific take is that consumers are eager to better understand the food they're consuming,” said Butler, who is chief executive officer of Beef Marketing Group, a cattle producers' cooperative based in Great Bend, Kan.
“Even a component of nutritional understanding may be the most important strategy we can suggest.”