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Changing consumer trends

Prime Cuts with Steve Kay

ALL wealth to the North American beef industry comes from consumers. So it’s critically important for the industry to closely track what consumers are doing, thinking and wanting. Americans’ food needs and wishes are changing significantly, and the U.S. meat industry needs to understand new trends to continue to deliver what consumers want. The same is likely just as true in Canada.

The theme of change summed up 10 key trends identified in the 2018 Power of Meat report unveiled last month at the North American Meat Institute’s Annual Meat Conference. Meat is big, lucrative and growing, but “one size fits all” must make room for “one size fits one,” says the report. The food retail industry is being reshaped by competitive forces, demographic shifts and mega-trends such as technology, convenience, health and wellness, and transparency. The meat category, from trip planning to consumption, is changing along with it. Meat can remain a crucial area for driving customer loyalty and competitive advantages by addressing the various population groups’ increasingly different approaches to meat through targeted advertising, marketing and merchandising, it says.

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The report examines meat purchasing, preparation and consumption trends through the eyes of the shopper. The second trend it notes is that the meat industry can drive demand and sales by teaming up to enhance shoppers’ meat knowledge. It is a logical yet powerful formula: extensive meat knowledge, a greater variety purchased, preparing meat more often, greater store loyalty, spending and trips. But in reality, meat knowledge is lacking for most and 83 per cent of shoppers purchase a mere handful of different meat cuts and kinds. However, 42 per cent say they would branch out if advised, says the report.

Meanwhile, retail beef sales and demand in the U.S. are benefitting from the most intense competition between grocery chains seen in a long time. Retailers for many years have used beef to attract customers to their stores, giving rise to the phrase that beef is “King of the Meat Case.” Beef’s pull diminished somewhat after the 2009 recession but retailers are once again using beef as their main draw card to get people into their stores. They are also battling to keep customers from buying more food online, such as through Amazon/Whole Foods and meal kit companies, and at restaurants.

The Denver area in Colorado is seeing intense competition between major chains, says Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center. The chains include Safeway and Kroger. They and other chains have heavily featured beef in their weekly flyers for the past three weeks, he says. Features have included Choice bone-in T-bone steaks and Choice New York bone-in steaks at US$4.67 per pound. One chain featured 80 per cent lean ground beef at US$1.89 per pound. Retailers are using beef in an aggressive battle for customers, he says. They’re also offering more meal packs for single people to families as part of a strategy to lure more customers who might otherwise eat out at a restaurant, says Robb.

Beef demand is robust as a result of all this, especially as chains have lowered their beef prices, says Robb. In addition, consumers increasingly regard beef as the highest quality meat and pork of lesser quality, especially pork loin cuts. Retail chains are also using technology to attract customers. Kroger has an app that tells you that if you’re running low on beef, come to a Kroger store because it has some great beef features, he says. In other words, retailers are using technology to attract more customers to their meat cases.

About the author

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A North American view of the meat industry. Steve Kay is publisher and editor of Cattle Buyers Weekly.

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