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    LIVE FROM MEATCON: Protein Paradise

    Purveyors sample new products; speakers discuss cat man; more about Millennials

    Follow me at the 2014 Meat Conference on Twitter @jimdudlicek

    Nearly 40 companies sampled their wares Monday evening at the gala tasting reception that’s the highlight of the Annual Meat Conference.

    New products trotted out for tasting at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis mirrored today’s leading food trends, many of which had been discussed the previous afternoons by speakers aiming to raise awareness among grocers about the latest flavors in demand by shoppers, in particular the demographic rapidly rising in importance: Millennials.

    Exotic flavors were offered by the Everson Spice Co., which sampled chicken skewers dusted with North African piri-piri, a seasoning now making inroads that was just emerging when I attended my first Meat Conference four years ago. Everson also sampled bool kogi, a Korean sesame marinated flank steak; and kushi yaki, a sweet and spicy chili-marinated pork.

    Also dominant were the various permutations of “natural” – all/100% natural, naturally raised, grass fed, hormone free – from companies like Hartley Ranch Angus and Sanderson Farms.

    And, of course, there continues to be bacon. “Breakfast meats are on fire,” declared John Crowder of Smithfield-Farmland (pictured below), which displayed various varieties of bacon and breakfast sausage, along with cook-in-bag marinated pork loins. “Retailers should pay attention to it."

    That assessment was reinforced by Tyson’s David Bray, who talked up the company’s Wright-brand bacon and breakfast sausages. Tyson also showed several meal solutions such as complete slow-cooker kits including beef or pork roast with vegetables.

    That kind of convenience was also in evidence among other exhibitors, including Butterball’s new heat-and-eat turkey and meatloaf; Bob Evans side dishes; Papa Charlie’s single-serve Italian beef sandwich kits, and beef and turkey gravies; and Burger & Ball Shop meatballs from Strauss Brands, designed to be cooked as full meatballs or smashed down on the griddle for sliders.

    Beer seems to be creeping into more products as well, such as breakfast sausage from Farmland and Perdue’s beer brats co-branded with microbrewer Dogfish Head.

    Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, Cat Man

    Category management is rapidly morphing into “need state” management – or at least should be, according to Gordon Wade, CEO of the Category Management Association. It’s not happening more quickly because most grocers aren’t able to crunch Big Data to their greatest advantage, Wade asserted in his morning session, “How Category Management and the Meat Case Can Save the Grocer!”

    Traditional grocers are struggling with “leakage” to other channels in many categories, in particular baby care; Wade (pictured left) noted that 25 percent of all diapers are sold by Amazon, an edge that he said supermarkets will never be able to overcome.

    “The only strategic benefit a grocer has is freshness,” Wade declared, explaining that grocers need to “build a moat around their perimeter” by leveraging their fresh offerings, meat in particular, and leveraging their shoppers’ need states by driving traffic to other areas of the store, to categories that complement these fresh proteins.

    “Winning the dinner need state is absolutely critical to the grocer,” Wade said, with a “need state” defined as a multifaceted shopper requirement and emotional attitude that create a desire for a comprehensive solution.

    Wade’s organization stands poised to help guide grocers and their CPG partners in conquering the land of Big Data toward successfully marketing need states to their shoppers. Key protein-centric areas that Wade said are right up grocers’ alleys are family dining, cultural cuisine, weight control, health and wellness, gluten free, natural/organic, and value.

    Only the Young Buy Good

    Also on Monday, Acosta Sales and Marketing’s Barbara Ford picked up where she left off in her Sunday presentation in continuing to drive home the importance of younger generations of shoppers, in particular Millennials, who are heading into their peak spending stage as Baby Boomers age and downsize.

    Millennials are less brand loyal, they're price-conscious but willing to shell out as needed, and they tend to shop the meat department often, yet they’re still below other age groups when it comes to home cooking, Ford noted. Younger shoppers seek guidance in preparing specific cuts of meat, and they’re more likely to access those directions digitally in their quest for mass customization.

    Millennials are looking beyond traditional grocers because most find supermarkets to be sterile, crowded, unpleasant and uninviting, Ford said, noting that grocers would be wise to engage Millennials with a strong mobile presence, and establish pre- and post-shopping contact as part of enhancing their experience.

    These age groups place a high value on social responsibility, sustainability and local products, and tend to favor brands exhibiting these qualities.

    Tide Rising for All Meats

    Economic and climate conditions are shaping up well for all proteins, according to the meat economists presenting at the conference Monday morning.

    While overall meat consumption is stable, chicken and pork are on the rise while beef has declined, according to Steve Meyer (right), president of Paragon Economics Inc. “Consumers’ preferences for meat and poultry are quite strong,” Meyer said.

    Likewise, Paul Aho, president of Poultry Perspective, predicted a “great year for poultry,” in which retail poultry sales will surpass those of beef as the economy improves.

    In fact, 2013 was the first year ever that demand for all three proteins – beef, poultry and pork – were up, according to Randy Blach, CEO of CattleFax.

    The economists expected food costs to moderate with the expectation of a good feed corn crop and the unliklihood of drought this year. However, they noted that the beef industry is far slower to respond to such changes than poultry or pork, and ranchers will need more time to restore cow numbers that had dwindled in recent years due to the high cost of feed and withering demand amid a sluggish economy.
     

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