Meat-Case Evolution

Study reveals that heat-and-serve and other value-added products growing at the meat case.
The fresh meat case has evolved, a new benchmarking industry study suggests. The National Meat Case Study 2004 (NMCS 2004) findings details that retail penetration of heat-and-serve and value-added products has continued to grow in the meat case. This study was conducted to provide packers and retailers with further insight into emerging retail meat-marketing trends on a national basis.
“There is no surprise that consumers are changing, and because of that, we are going to see the meat case evolve to meet their needs and demands,” explains Randy Irion, director of retail marketing, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), in the Chicago office. We want to know…what are the hot buttons? Things like value-added products, enhanced items. Case ready and net weight all gained in importance.”
“The goal of the study was to represent what was for sale in America’s meat case in the major supermarket chains across the country,” says Jerry Kelly, national coordinator, retail taskforce, Cryovac/Sealed Air Corp., Duncan, SC. “It does not reflect the front-end point-of-sale data, but what is for sale at a moment in time.”
Shift in strategies
Survey results reveal that despite core species’ strength, there has been a shift in merchandising strategies for the total meat department. This has resulted in a 6 percentage point decline for fresh meat and poultry’s share of total linear feet (from 69 percent in 2002 to 63 percent in 2004) and an increased share for processed meats (sausage, ham, and other processed) and heat-and-serve products. Both categories are up 2 percentage points with ready-to-cook, value-added products and self-serve seafood up 1 percentage point each.
Heat-and-serve products were carried in 87 percent of the supermarkets surveyed.  Within these, 82 percent merchandised heat-and-serve products with value-added products (vs. within species) to create one location for convenience items.
One rather surprising finding was that while ready-to-cook, value-added products were merchandised in 100 percent of the supermarkets surveyed, they only represented 6 percent of the total packages. Pork had the highest percentage of ready-to-cook, value- added packages at 12 percent — followed by turkey at 8 percent, chicken at 6 percent, and whole-muscle beef at 4 percent.
“One thing we can point out to retailers, and it underscores what we found in 2002, is that [many of them] have a zero-stock situation at random points in time during the day for items that we know are leading sellers,” says NCBA’s Irion. “While retailers have been very focused on shrink, I don’t think they can take their eye off the lost opportunities that occur when you are a zero-stock situation on a leading cut on beef, pork, or chicken for that matter.”
Zero-stock occurrences were surprisingly high among leading meat-case items, the survey reveals. For example, among the top-five tonnage items in whole-muscle beef, loin-top sirloin steak boneless (ranked 5th) was not represented in 41 percent of the stores and chuck roast boneless (ranked 4th) was missing in 26 percent. Whole-muscle beef’s No. 1 item, top round steak boneless, had zero stock in one of four stores. Within ground beef ground chuck, ground round, and ground sirloin were not represented in 3 percent, 9 percent, and 5 percent of stores, respectively.
Outside of ground beef, chicken had the best representation of leading items. Boneless chicken breasts — the top-selling chicken item — was not represented in only 9 percent of stores, chicken wings (ranked 5th) were missing in 8 percent, and chicken drumsticks (ranked 3rd) had zero stock in only 3 percent of stores.
The reason that zero-stock figures were so much lower for chicken may have to do with that specie being abundantly available in case-ready packages. Chicken case-ready programs have been around for decades, making them more familiar to retailers
“When you look at beef, compared to chicken, their [zero-stock] numbers were a lot less,” explains Cryovac’s Kelly. “Is that because they have been on a case-ready program for twenty years? It is ingrained in the system. Ordering and replenishment are easy. They [retailers] can fill the case easily because they have product to fill it. It certainly adds weight to the argument for case-ready vs. store-produced in other categories.”
But the retailer needs to be vigilant and in tune with the customer.
“Savvy retailers make sure that at all points in time they have their leading items in the case,” adds Irion. “We see some retailers carrying more SKUs than they absolutely have to. This has been complicated by having certain cuts in family-packs and thin-slice/thick slice [offerings]. They are carrying a lot of SKUs that they never used to carry. But the consequence of that is that they find themselves out of stock on some key items.
“We saw the six-percent decline for fresh meat and poultry share of total linear feet. But even with the [space] limitations that retailers have, a better job can be done.”
Point-of-purchase materials remain an important component of meat-case merchandising, the survey notes. While retailers continue to highlight price (represented by case danglers and price fins in more than 90 percent of supermarkets surveyed), opportunities exist to focus on additional consumer communication elements such as species signage (only used in 74 percent of supermarkets surveyed), segment level signage — such as steaks, roasts, chops, and ribs (used in 56 percent), nutritional signs (used in 67 percent), rail strips (used in 65 percent), recipe racks (used in 43 percent), and event promotions (used in 8 percent).
A great opportunity exists for on-pack cooking information, which declined 3 percentage points in 2004 vs. 2002 to 34 percent of the packages. Forty-four percent of packages have on-package nutrition information, the study indicates.  This is up 10 percentage points from 2002.  NP
About the study
The NMCS 2004, coordinated by Lee and Company, consisted of 104 audits in 29 states and 43 key metro markets. Auditors, including Texas Tech University, Cryovac Food Packaging Division of Sealed Air Corporation and the National Pork Board (NPB), visited major chain supermarkets nationwide collecting information on more than 117,000 packages. Information collected included, for example, use of cooking information, number of SKUs, packages per SKU, pounds per SKU, use of case ready technology and linear space by species. The study was funded in part by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), managed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the National Pork Board and Cryovac/Sealed Air. More than 236,000 pounds of product was counted and more than 27,000 linear feet of meat cases (the length of 90 football fields) were observed.