DALLAS — Many shoppers describe supermarket meat departments as both boring and intimidating, according to a series of shop-along interviews and focus group sessions conducted in Chicago and the Washington, D.C., area by Shugoll Research and Midan Marketing.
The findings of these studies, along with suggestions for short- and long-term solutions that retailers might employ to improve consumer perception of their meat departments, were presented here during the “Turning Trends into Sales” session at the Annual Meat Conference, a production of the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute.
Shoppers who participated in the study described meat departments as visually uninteresting — one big line of products that are all the same color. And, since many shoppers are unfamiliar with how various cuts of meat and poultry are best prepared, they often find themselves overwhelmed by the large selection of similar-looking products.
But, these shoppers also offered suggestions for improvement, which Midan and Shugoll divided into short-term fixes that would require little money or time to test, and long-term fixes that would require capital investment.
“Look at how stores have changed in recent years. The meat department hasn't really changed,” Danette Amstein, principal of Midan Marketing, said during a later interview with SN. Amstein noted how modern produce departments and bakeries have employed merchandising techniques geared toward visual impact. Many produce departments have misters that play the sound of thunder when they turn on. Bakery departments bake bread to stimulate the customers' sense of smell.
When researchers asked the focus groups to talk about their sensory experience in the meat department, participants did not register a single positive experience involving sights, sounds, smells or tastes.
“Every store has a PA system, and nothing sounds better than bacon sizzling. How about a little bacon crackling [in the meat department] even if it's once every 20 minutes,” Jarrod Sutton, assistant vice president, channel marketing for the National Pork Board said during a later interview.
“It's not that hard and it's not a huge capital expense.”
Here are some other easy solutions that Amstein and Merill Shugoll, president of Shugoll research, suggested during their presentation.
• Cook something near the meat department. In the fall and winter a crock pot could slow cook roasts and stews. In the spring and summer, try a portable electric grill for burgers and steaks.
• Give shoppers the option of receiving recipes and ingredient lists by text.
• Feature an easy meal of the week, and have the ingredients available in a single cooler near the meat case. This meal could be tied in with a sampling or demo.
• Have a “customer liaison” on-site during peak hours to answer questions and give advice. Amstein and Shugoll both noted that as retailers have moved toward more case-ready product, the availability of experts in many meat departments has declined.
Long-term solutions suggested to SN after the presentation included redesigning meat departments with better lighting, a warmer atmosphere and a less linear layout. Television monitors could be placed in meat departments, to play videos on the source of some of the department's products, or cooking demonstrations. And, retailers could use different packaging, separated by color, size or type, to make proteins easier to recognize.