The retail world has been competing with online delivery for years, with significant casualties. Hardly a month goes by when a long-standing chain goes out of business or closes multiple stores. Toys ‘R’ Us is only the latest example of a brick-and-mortar entity that lost too much ground to point-and-click shopping.

While online shopping has become a dominant venue for non-perishable purchases, it is making more and more inroads for perishable goods as well. AmazonFresh, like Peapod and FreshDirect before it, is giving customers the ability to have their meats, produce and dairy products delivered to their front door. 

“It’s our prediction that consumers will purchase meat online at a more rapid rate of adoption than produce. While the online meat purchase lags general groceries, our 2018 Power of Meat analysis suggests 19 percent of shoppers have purchased meat online, up from 4 percent in 2015,” said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for the Food Marketing Institute.

“Additionally, shoppers show a much greater willingness to order meat online compared to the 2015 study. However, shoppers may be more willing to shop online for packed meat (bacon, hotdogs, sausage) versus a ribeye or strip steak,” he adds.

Just because more and more consumers are more willing to buy their meat without picking up the package, it doesn’t mean that the meat department or the meat market is a dying institution. Stores with a full-service meat counter and/or a fully staffed meat department are able to educate customers on different types of meat and offer advice and recipes. Stein says that 72 percent of shoppers who shop stores with a meat service counter are glad that they have access.


Incorporating mail-order into a business

One alternative for meat processors is to devote enough resources into making an online store a success. If shoppers want to use their computers or mobile devices to buy their favorite chicken, steaks or sausages, then meat companies have to be ready to meet the demand.

Frontiére Natural Meats has, since 2009, provided retail and foodservice customers with a variety of all-natural proteins, from beef and chicken to bison and elk.  The Denver-based company is owned and operated by the Viola family. James Viola worked at Maverick Ranch before deciding to go out on his own. He’s been joined by sons Josh, who oversees sales and marketing, and Cody, who oversees the production.

“The three of us grew from 2009 when we founded the company to just over 80 employees, and now we’re basically shipping a million and a half pounds of product a month to various customers and clients,” Josh says, adding that the company also co-packs and manages the Maverick Ranch brand.

Frontiére Natural Meats has had an online presence in the past, but its offerings were limited. Thanks to a recently upgraded website and online store, the company is now poised to offer its high-end proteins to customers across the country.

Previously, online customers could purchase a pre-determined package of meats. For instance, if people wanted a bison package, they would get a set amount of ground meat, patties, etc. 

“We just didn’t have the ability to focus on having a team here in house that could handle online orders and work through the versatility of customer purchases,” Viola says. 

The company partnered with AmazonFresh earlier this year to ramp up its online presence. The new store takes Frontiére Natural Meats online operations completely in-house and offers brand-new products, such as sweet Italian chicken sausage and pork sausage. Plans are already underway to expand the online offerings even further.
“We’re just trying to work with production to make sure we can fit them into the online store, which we will. So we’ll definitely be growing by the end of the year,” Viola says. “You’ll see more products available. With our Maverick Ranch brand, we have a lot of items that we simply don’t have under the Frontiére brand, so we’ll be opening that up.”

The idea to expand the online store has been in the works since last year. The initial trial with AmazonFresh, which processed orders for Frontiére Natural Meats products in the Denver area, provided some valuable insights into the online consumer.

“We learned a lot through that process, and the demographic was surprisingly young,” he explains. “A lot of millennials were purchasing. That was very interesting because the majority of our clients tend to be older with deeper pockets. Hitting a younger crowd is certainly interesting to me.”

Viola called the experience with Amazon a great learning experience for the company, but the shipments were limited to the Denver zip codes. By taking the online aspect in-house, Viola says that he has a larger target audience and the ability to market his products in a certain way.

“We just have so much more control at our own online store. We’re able to directly communicate with the customers, which we did not have the ability to do with AmazonFresh. Amazon, as you know, functions as the distributor, and they directly communicate with the customers,” he says.

That direct line of communication came in handy over the July 4 holiday. Consumers wanted to make sure that the burger patties they ordered would be delivered in time for the holiday cookouts, and Frontiére Natural Meats was able to customize orders and delivery times to accommodate those needs.
One of the keys to Frontiére Natural Meats success in the online world has been the addition of an online product fulfillment team. Viola hired a dedicated team whose focus is on marketing and fulfilling the online store items. The system is a big improvement over using the production or warehouse team to fulfill orders on top of their other duties.

To commemorate the launch of the new website, Frontiére Natural Meats offered free shipping on orders of $250 or more, as well as 10 percent off of a customer’s first orders. It will be enticing consumers with more offers throughout the year as well.

Viola says that the biggest challenges have been making sure that the product arrives fresh and that the shipping costs make sense for both the customer and the processor. Shipping perishable products like meat is a particular challenge in the summer. Frontiére Natural Meats freezes the meats immediately after they’ve been cut and puts the frozen meats in coolers that are filled to the brim with frozen gel packs to help maintain food safety and quality.

“We just had record breaking heat this last week in California and Colorado, [and] I’m sure various other states across the U.S. We want to make sure that the product’s not affected by that, so safe delivery is the most important thing,” Viola says.