Lunch is an increasingly attractive meal of opportunity for meat and poultry merchandisers.

Changing consumer lifestyles because of the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in a larger base of people looking for lunch alternatives. The Power of Meat 2021 report shows 56 percent of meat shoppers bought more meat or poultry during the pandemic because they are preparing more lunches at home. In addition, 65 percent of people now working from home bought more meat or poultry, as did 67 percent of those working both at home and at their place of business.

The Power of Meat 2021 is prepared by 210 Analytics, a San Antonio-based market research and marketing strategies firm and published by the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education.

“Eating from home is one of the biggest cultural changes we’ve seen in the food industry in a long time in terms of what that means for innovation,” says Chris DuBois, senior vice president, protein practice, for Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a Chicago-based market research firm.

He notes that 20 percent to 25 percent of the U.S. working population now permanently operates from home, up from about 7 percent in 2017. That is resulting in a displacement of approximately 33 million lunch occasions “that are up for grabs each day that would have primarily been serviced from the work environment or the office.”

It is creating strong sales possibilities for supermarket operators who are in position to grab lunch revenues from foodservice operators, DuBois says, but he adds that to be successful, retailers must respond to shopper demands.

“Consumers are looking for something new and innovative, which from a meat side can be a different kind of sandwich,” he says. Retailers should offer options that are flavorful, easy to prepare and provide excitement for persons who primarily work out of their homes, “or otherwise they can just go to the usual outlets, such as Panera Bread or McDonald’s,” DuBois says.

For best results, supermarkets should mirror the foodservice move to digital ordering and quick delivery or pickup, he says. “The hard part is that the supermarket business model is to keep shoppers in the store for a long period of time,” DuBois says. “There needs to be a big change in attitude and physical changes for doors, access and checkouts that goes beyond what is occurring on the restaurant side.”

"Consumers are looking for something new and innovative, which from a meat side can be a different kind of sandwich."

Stand apart from the crowd

Supermarkets can cater to the strong shopper focus on convenience by offering varieties of premade sandwiches in displays that also feature side items such as chips and beverages, says Jim Wisner, president of Wisner Marketing, a Gurnee, Ill.-based market research, education and consumer packaged goods consulting firm.

Retailers also should make buying simpler for people who make their own lunches by offering varieties of sliced deli meats in grab-and-go cases, he says. “Not near enough supermarkets make it easy to buy deli meats,” Wisner says, noting that many shoppers must still take a number and wait in line at the full-service deli counter.

“In many cases that is the antithesis of service,” he says. “Delis lose a lot of business simply because of that wait.” Retailers, meanwhile, can make lunch offerings more attractive by offering signature meat-based sandwiches or other protein selections that only are available in their stores, Wisner says. “It has to be different from the same things that everyone else is offering in order to stand out,” he says. “Offering Sara Lee sliced ham, for instance, is great, but so what?”

Wisner says many retail operators must alter their merchandising mindsets if they are to become the go-to destination for meat or poultry-based lunch selections. “There is a lot of inertia in selling meat,” he says. “We have the entire retail infrastructure built to do something in a specific way and to completely undermine and change that can be difficult.”

Store operators who understand the need for merchandising adjustments may not have the authority to implement initiatives, Wisner says.

“There needs to be someone very senior to say, ‘let’s go test this and try that,’ and can commit the resources to it while not punishing the innocent if it doesn’t work,” he says. “That’s the biggest impediment to anyone doing anything.”