All Articles Food CPG The meat of the matter: FMI execs discuss meat industry insights

The meat of the matter: FMI execs discuss meat industry insights

How are consumer meat-buying trends shifting? How has shoppers' definition of the value of meat changed? How does sustainable packaging come into play? Join SmartBrief as we dive into these questions and more with executive leaders from FMI -- The Food Industry Association.

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Consumer meat-buying trends

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With the highest number of attendees in event history, this year’s Annual Meat Conference — co-hosted by FMI, The Food Industry Association and the Meat Institute — revealed key category insights and insightful shopper data through educational sessions and the release of The Power of Meat 2024 study from FMI and the Foundation for Meat & Poultry Education & Research. During the conference, FMI executive leaders Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO; Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods and Andy Harig, vice president of tax, trade, sustainability and policy development, took time to meet with SmartBrief to discuss some of the key findings from the study, as well as highlight some shifting consumer trends the industry is noting at the meat counter.

Communication is key to meat sales

Shoppers are being more innovative at the meat counter and before they even enter the store, Stein said, giving retailers the chance to reach them through digital platforms both before and during shopping trips.

“It’s a great opportunity to communicate with the pre-shopper because consumers aren’t reading ads as much as they used to,” Stein explained. “They’re really looking at the apps and making decisions off of the app, and they’re also leaning into recipes. A lot of the marketing on the apps is geared towards engaging consumers right there in the meat department, helping them make their choices (in store).”

That shopper outreach leaves room for greater opportunities for retailers to promote meat to shoppers, the study found – one of which is promoting the health benefits of meat, especially considering most current AI technologies in shopper apps promote salmon over beef, chicken and pork when shoppers ask for healthy protein recommendations, even though 74% of meat eaters believe meat is part of healthy, balanced lifestyles, according to the Power of Meat 2024.

That’s because we’re not talking about meat in a way that AI extracts it,” Stein said. “So we need to talk more about meat and the fact that it has healthy aspects.”

Retailers also need to remember to promote that meat tastes good, Stein said. The Power of Meat found that 92% of shoppers agree that meat/poultry can be a great price, but if it does not taste good, they will not buy it again.

“The big strength of the meat department is taste and flavor,” Stein said. “We talk about package size, price per pound. We need to go back and remind customers what an enjoyable experience it is to eat from the meat department.”

Eating occasions are big and getting bigger

When it comes to schedules and eating, today’s consumers are frequently talking more and more about “eating occasions,” according to research from FMI, Circana and Oliver Wyman, and those occasions revolve primarily around convenience. For example, 65% of morning eating occasions are prepared in less than five minutes, the research found.

“I think what we all find in our daily lives is that we’re eating less and less three squares a day because that’s just not how our lives work anymore, and so eating occasions is what we talk about because that’s (how) we eat,” Sarasin said.

Those occasions may be at 10 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, “but whenever it is, one of the things we’ve learned from our Power of Meat study is that meat can be at the center of any of those eating occasions. Meat has always been at the center of the plate,” Sarasin said. “The meal occasions that we talk about (that are) evolving into eating occasions – all of that’s important in the context of family meals, and meat can be right at the center of what’s going on there.”

That, then, presents an opportunity for food retailers, as well as for meat producers.

“What our research has shown from the operation standpoint is that some 65% of our retailers have found that they can use their meat department as a real differentiator from what their competitors are doing,” Sarasin explained. “And I think it’s important that what we see in the grocery store is that the meat industry is working very hard to make what’s available to consumers as convenient as possible and as healthy as possible – whether it comes to portion sizes or whatever the consumer is looking for from their own health standpoint.”

As a result, shoppers will see more and more promotions in store that focus on eating occasions centered around celebrations and holidays, “in a way that resonates with the consumers,” Stein said, noting that those communications need to be tailored even more so for younger generations who are not buying as much meat as their older counterparts but who would consider meat purchases for special occasions.

Sustainable packaging comes to the forefront

More shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of food packaging as it relates to sustainability with package waste being a top concern and food retailers and producers are responding with biodegradable bags, recyclable trays and vacuum-sealed packaging. Still, sustainable meat packaging has, “always been one of the toughest nuts to crack in the packaging realm because there’s some food safety concerns that other products don’t have,” Harig said. “And you also have some recyclability challenges because usually once that package is done, it’s considered contaminated” and is not accepted by recyclers.

As a result, the area is one ripe for innovation, Harig explained.

“What you’re starting to see is alternatives entering the market – not at the pace that they probably will in the next year or two, but this is probably the most exciting area that we see,” Harig said. “What you are seeing is, for instance, like the old styrofoam meat tray, a lot of companies are shifting away from that. They’ll have paperboard alternatives (that are) still strong on food safety, still completely safe, but they use a little bit less packaging.”

Some retailers and producers will move away from trays altogether and just use plastic packaging instead, Harig said, noting that consumers also need education on what to do with those types of packaging once they are finished with it.

Shoppers’ definition of the value of meat goes beyond savings

An important factor to keep in mind is that all of FMI’s more recent research indicates that the customer’s definition of value has changed dramatically, Sarasin said. 

“I’m not going to say that price is not important because it is important, but there are other things that the consumer is taking into account when identifying what value is to them,” Sarasin said. “It is about price, but it’s also about convenience. It’s also about the quality of the product. It’s about nutrition and whether or not the product meets their health and nutrition needs. So this notion of value for the consumer has become much broader than it ever has been before. And so I think truly what we find in our meat cases today is an option for everyone, no matter what your definition of value is.”

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