SALEM, Mo. -- As customers embrace convenience-driven, time-saving foods -- especially in the perishables departments -- retailers have responded by adding value in ways designed to spur both demand and profits.
However, the meat case has not made as much progress with value-added foods as other departments. Some observers blame pricing; others say consumers harbor food-safety fears. Whatever the reason, the result is that the value-added meat category needs more customer-oriented selling techniques, retailers told SN.
According to Dave DeWitte, meat manager for Blue Goose Super Market, St. Charles, Ill., growth depends upon "communication." While value-added products do partly sell themselves, store associates bear the responsibility of helping consumers overcome doubts.
"Somebody must be there to explain what the program is all about," he said. "From how it's prepared to what it is."
Blue Goose carries both national-brand value-added items as well as items made in-store. Both sell equally well, said DeWitte. The difference is found in how well the value of the items is communicated to customers.
DeWitte said that store associates at the independent retailer are taught how to help guide shoppers through the value equation, which has stimulated sales.
"It getting better and better," he said. "The volume is definitely there. I see nothing but growth."
At Town & Country Supermarkets, Salem, Mo., national brands and price play an important role in driving value-added meat sales.
According to Eddie Watson, meat director, the national brands sell better because customers are familiar with the names.
"With the national brands people know more," said Watson. "We put [national-brand value-added items] in our ads and it helps sell them. We have done that for years."
Price is also a deciding factor in cases where shoppers have no preference for brand names over in-store creations. Other factors that he said sell value-added meats include better trim, and freshness and quality.
But, above all else, communication is the growth booster, Watson agreed. To educate consumers, he has been testing on-pack stickers that define the product, as well as providing cooking times and cooking instruction.
Incorporating communication into merchandising value-added meats is equally important at Bashas' Markets, Chandler, Ariz., according to Becca Anderson, director of public relations.
"We do a lot of the business in the meat department through the service case," she said. "People like to talk to the butcher and get hints on how to cook it."
"I think people would rather get something that has a little extra work done to it," she explained of the fresh choices at the service counter. "They feel that it's going to taste better if it's just been done, instead of something that has a lot of preservatives in it."
Another aspect of Bashas' merchandising plan driving sales is its continuing effort to get the message across to customers that the items are fresh, since consumers equate fresh with quality, she added.
"The fact is it looks so nice, and is all set to go and you can see that it's quality," she said. "I think they feel that the quality is going to be better on the stuff that's freshly made."
She said that when the issue is freshness, the service counter outsells the self-service case on a consistent basis.
"What we're finding is that if they're shopping that day, they want fresh that day. They don't want to pull something that's in a hermetically sealed plastic bag. They want something that feels fresh to them," she said.
As for the future of value-added meat and the problem of slow category growth, she remains optimistic.
She said that the best way to sell value-added products is to display them in an appetizing manner, and have a live person ready to sell the customer up to fresh value-added meats with quality assurances, preparation tips and price-comparison information.
"[Customers] like interaction," said Anderson. "It's the whole personalized experience that they like."