The Next Evolution of the Meat Case

March 09, 2015

Here's what the meat case has to become - to satisfy protein demand and new ways of shopping.

Originally published in the Facts, Figures & the Future weekly e-newsletter. Click here for a free subscription.

Will 2015 be the year supermarkets and the meat industry take a bold, unorthodox approach to reaffirm the meat case as the center of store trips - because it will give consumers unbridled choice in their fast-changing demands for protein?

Double-digit price hikes in meat and poultry, as well as emerging variety, convenience and health preferences, are at the root of consumer change, says Facts, Figures & The Future (F3). These trends lead shoppers to do more than buy different meat species or less expensive cuts, which are some of the traditional savings behaviors. Retailers sense by now the extent to which people are buying produce, dairy, seafood, deli, beans, bars, shakes and other sources of protein beyond the meat case.

Shoppers are on a protein hunt throughout the store.

If supermarkets gracefully accept this behavior - rather than deny it or force shoppers into more time-intensive patterns on their store trips - they could make it easier and more convenient to shop their stores. How? Create The Protein Center. This department could display the same amount of meat as before, but it would also have expanded space for key alternate protein sources.

Until now, meat departments that expanded did so to offer costlier prepared versions and marinated meats, or to cross-merchandise sauces and sides. Our concept is somewhat different. Why not help shoppers mix up their meals as well, say, with high-protein eggs, beans, tofu, peas, sun-dried tomatoes or combination beef and mushroom burgers that give a healthier profile at a lower cost?

For consumers who think meat is too costly today, this one-stop destination offers convenient alternatives that keep them in this department. For meat-lovers who want choices with less fat, these displays pave a path - and show the store has shoppers' health in mind. For people with ethnic tastes or who simply want to excite their palates at home, this is a more direct way.

In our view, The Protein Center would be a win for all parties because it would keep protein sales of all kinds in the supermarket.

F3 suggests its idea as the Food Marketing Institute and North American Meat Institute released findings of the tenth annual Power of Meat study. Among its Top 10 findings:

  • Price increases for beef and pork changed buying behavior among 40 percent of shoppers - most look to save money.
  • High price sensitivity leads to frequent substitutions within the meat case and elsewhere in the store.
  • Shoppers emphasize leaner cuts and portion control when they buy meat and show greater interest in local sourcing.
  • Supermarkets continue to dominate fresh meat and poultry sales. Farmers' markets are the top source for occasional purchases - 15 percent of shoppers.
  • The meat purchase decision is increasingly made in-store.
  • About 25 percent of shoppers buy value-added meat products though 21 percent cite cost, and 46 percent cite a preference to prepare items themselves, as barriers to buying value-added.
  • Sixty-three percent of shoppers in stores that have full-service meat cases call it a store advantage; 36 percent of shoppers in stores without full-service wish they had it.