In supermarket meat departments, the use of case-ready products has continued to grow, shoppers are seeing more private-label brands, more packages are including nutrition information and cooking instructions, the percentage of products with a “natural” claim is higher than ever and four of the nation's the top-selling pork items are among the five most frequently out-of-stock items in the meat case.
These were a few of the top-line findings from the 2010 National Meat Case Study — a report compiled once every three years by Sealed Air's Cryovac brand, the Beef Checkoff Program and the National Pork Board. This year's NMCS audit was produced via in-store analysis of 124 supermarket meat departments and nine club stores in 51 metro markets across 31 states.
“The results from the 2010 NMCS give us great insight into the way the meat case has transformed over the past three years,” Jerry Kelly, national retail account manager for Cryovac, said in a release. “Our economy has gone through a great deal of change since we performed our last audit in 2007. As a result, these findings can help us to understand some of the implications of that change for the retail meat case.”
The study bills the rapid growth of private-label branding as its biggest news. The percentage of store-brand meats tripled from 12% in 2004 to 36% in 2010. These increases came at the expense of supplier-branded meats and commodity products with no brand, which decreased 13% and 11%, respectively, during the past six years.
And, the trend appears to have accelerated during the past three years. In 2010, 51% of beef was branded with a private label, up from 31% in 2007. Private-label ground beef grew from 21% of total ground beef to 37% during that time. Store-brand pork increased from 19% to 26%, and private-label chicken rose from 26% to 35%.
Citing “The Power of Meat, an In-Depth Look at Meat Through the Shopper's Eyes, 2007 and 2010,” the NMCS notes that these results are hardly surprising. In 2010, 13% of shoppers said they prefer a supermarket's private-label brand over national brands, 13% of shoppers said the opposite and 74% said they have no brand preference when purchasing meat.
Due to a number of different factors, on-package labeling is growing as well. For example, health and wellness trends have led to more on-package nutrition labeling, and demographic shifts have generated growing demand for bilingual package labeling.
Also, the recession has caused many U.S. consumers to dine out less and eat at home more often. With more shoppers learning to cook, the popularity of on-pack recipes and cooking tips was up, after declining steadily from 2002 through 2007. Almost 40% of meat and poultry items now offer some sort of cooking information.
Ground beef demonstrated the strongest increase in this area, with on-pack cooking information up 16%, but turkey continued to lead the pack, with more than 75% of turkey products offering recipes and tips.
Shopper demands for transparency have also led to an increase in production claims, led by “minimally processed,” which is now found on 27% of all meat and poultry packages, “[artificial] hormone free,” on 15% of packages, “antibiotic free,” on 5% of packages and “vegetarian fed,” on 8% of chicken, 4% of lamb and 3% of ground beef packages. In addition, “natural” claims are now found on 32% of all meat and poultry items. Of those items, 46% offer an additional production claim, and 24% include two or more production claims.
“This year's [NMCS] showed some major shifts in how retailers are merchandising fresh meat product to their customers,” said Jarrod Sutton, assistant vice president of channel marketing for the National Pork Board. “As consumers continue to demand transparency and more information about the products they purchase, we expect to see these numbers shift even more in the coming years.”
Value and family-sized packs also appear to be making a comeback, due in part to the recession.
“Another finding in the 2010 study was the increase in value/family packs across several proteins, as retailers met the needs of parents looking to feed their growing families on a budget,” said Jim Henger, executive director of marketing for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which manages retail programs for Beef Checkoff.
The beef category, for example, saw a significant increase in the sales of ground beef family packs, which were up from 3% of the ground beef category in 2007 to 11% in 2010. Chicken saw a similar increase in larger pack sizes, with sales up from 6% of the category in 2007 to 15% in 2010.
The study also revealed that too many meat departments may be leaving sales on the table due to out-of-stocks. To assess the prevalence of zero-stock items, auditors conducted a rollup of top package counts by protein. Product descriptions found on unit labels were also rolled up, to ensure that similar products with different names were not unfairly counted as out-of-stocks at different stores or in different markets. Then, if a store did not have a popular item represented, auditors recorded the occurrence as a zero-stock situation.
Although out-of-stock situations are always disappointing, it appears that they may be unusually prevalent with popular pork items. Back ribs were not stocked in 27% of stores that auditors visited, while non-flavored pork tenderloins were out of stock in 24% of stores.
Other proteins had problems in this area as well. Auditors found that ribeye steaks, top sirloin steaks and cube steaks are the most common items that go out of stock in the beef category, while wings are the most common zero-stock item in the chicken category.
Retailers and other interested parties can obtain the full 2010 study by contacting their representatives at Cryovac, NCBA or the National Pork Board.