Accentuate the attributes

Meat processors can help boost foodservice pork sales by supplying operators with selections that have the claims that are most important to consumer, while providing merchandising guidance to their customers.

Consumers are clamoring for meats with claims that reflect high-quality, premiumization and better-for-you positioning that can pay off for the processor and consumer. Indeed, processors that provide top-quality proteins with popular claims can maximize their potential benefits with effective customer merchandising.

By examining retail channels, one can understand what consumers are looking for. Among the protein claims in great demand are "free of antibiotics," which 35 percent of consumers indicate is important when purchasing fresh food, while 20 percent state that organic selections are important, reports Information Resources Inc. (IRI), a Chicago-based market research firm. In addition, 30 percent of consumers seek selections with "better for the animal" claims; 28 percent focus on environmental sustainability and 26 percent consider social consciousness important, IRI notes.

The increasing sales of meats with such claims in supermarket meat departments reveals the necessity for processors to provide foodservice operators with similar proteins if the operators are to effectively compete with other restaurants and other channels.

Meat department dollar sales for items with no-antibiotics-ever and organic claims both grew 19.2 percent in 2018 versus the year-earlier period, with pound sales up 21.1 percent and 18.6 percent, respectively, IRI states. In contrast, dollar and pound sales for conventional meats declined 2 percent and 3.7 percent during that period.

While natural and organic meats resonate more with younger shoppers, including millennials, baby boomers have greater interest in where the livestock was raised and the non-use of antibiotics and hormones, states The Power of Meat 2019 report, published by the Arlington, Va.–based Food Marketing Institute and the Washington, D.C.–based Foundation for Meat & Poultry Research & Education. Claims with universal interest include grass fed, free range, premium quality and vegetarian fed. 

Fifty-four percent of shoppers want their meat departments to carry more grass-fed selections, while 52 percent seek additional meats that are all-natural, antibiotic-free, hormone-free or have no added hormones, The Power of Meat states. In addition, 38 percent seek more items that are raised locally.

Consumer comprehension is critical to capitalize on consumers' growing interest in meats with healthy attributes, it is important that processors not only supply foodservice operators with the necessary selections, but also educate the operators on how they can most effectively promote and describe the claims to restaurant patrons.

"There are so many claims in the marketplace and, because some are straight industry jargon, we’re confusing the consumer," says Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics LLC, a San Antonio–based market research and marketing strategies firm and preparer of The Power of Meat 2019 report. "Many consumers will have no idea what we’re talking about, and we only create doubt and questions in the minds of the shoppers."

As a result, processors should help foodservice operators create an effective communications strategy, which should be multi-faceted, says Charles Winship, senior research analyst at Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm.

"While displaying ingredient callouts and claims on menus is important, ensuring that the restaurant staff is properly educated about these claims and can provide clarification or additional information will enhance the customer experience," he states.

To enable foodservice operators to avoid the complications from overwhelming customers with information, processors can signify the claims that deserve the spotlight.

"Operators might highlight local or regional products on their menus but provide greater details on who their suppliers are on their websites," Winship says, adding that foodservice outlets also should give greater emphasis to the attributes that will resonate most with their specific customer bases.

Forty-four percent of consumers who eat pork, for instance, say it is important that the pork comes from animals that are treated humanely, Technomic notes in its 2019 Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report.

"It helps to consider what the customer is looking for," Winship states. "The claims are each associated with different attributes, usually relating to health, quality, flavor, sustainability and price point, and have different levels of detail and specificity."

If the core foodservice patron is budget conscious, processors should be wary of recommending callouts that suggest selections with substantially higher prices, he says. "And when targeting consumers concerned with sustainability, priority should be given to claims that speak more to sourcing practices," Winship notes.

Processors, meanwhile, can encourage foodservice operators to also publicize the meat brands that are on their menus. "A lot of smaller brands are emerging with great family stories that provide a wonderful opportunity for retailers to promote," Roerink states. "But restaurants also are looking for their suppliers to provide the transparency they need in order to better inform their own customers about the story behind the food. A greater availability of specialty attributes in foodservice will help create consumer demand for selections with the claims."

Suppliers like Clemens Food Group can be a valuable resource for processors who need to navigate the “claim game,” and can provide merchandising materials, data and other support elements to make a compelling case and add value to the services you provide your customers.

Topics: Cutters