More than 67% of consumers make an effort to choose nutritious foods, do their part for the environment, buy from companies with good animal welfare standards, or care about social environmental responsibility, according to the Food Industry Association’s 2023 Power of Meat report.

So, it’s no surprise that claims-based meat is more popular than ever. In fact, the percentage of consumers who say they frequently purchase claims-based meat has increased consistently since 2015.

“We’re continuing to see a strong demand,” said Jim Rogers, senior vice president of sales at Creekstone Farms. “Today’s shoppers are well aware of product attributes and seek them out, whether it’s production claims such as all-natural, breed-specific such as Angus, or a quality claim like USDA Prime. We find this to be especially true with beef shoppers.”

Midan Marketing’s most recent Beef Attributes study found that nearly 90% of consumers purchase at least some beef with production claims or premium attributes.

Danielle Marta, director of marketing and product management for Thomas Foods International USA, noted there has been a rising interest in claims-based meats, as Australian beef continues to grow in popularity with US consumers, with grass-fed exports to the USA in September doubling year-over-year.

“The combination of grass-fed and organic attributes has some powerful synergies for beef, showing double-digit growth in dollars and units year-over-year, according to some internal data prepared for us by SPINS,” she said. “For lamb, we’re seeing strong demand for products that are pasture-raised and grass-fed. Overall, consumers are seeking a full suite of positive claims from nutritional benefits, to raising standards, to environmental impact, as well as country of origin.”

Dana Ehrlich, CEO and founder of Verde Farms, noted grass-fed and organic trends are stronger than conventional, and when more than one better-for-you attribute is present, sales are growing even faster.

“Consumers want brands that not only provide delicious meat, but that also make them feel good about their health, the treatment of animals, and the impact on the planet,” Ehrlich said. “These attributes are interconnected for the better-for-you consumer.”

Mike Salguero, CEO of ButcherBox, can understand why people want to know where their food comes from and is impressed with the number of people who are caring more about the environment and animal welfare. However, there is concern if this will continue in light of recent inflation.

“In recessionary times, people tend to trade down on food quality,” he said. “So, the big question is, ‘Are people going to care less about claims?’ though we haven’t seen that play out in the data as of yet. That suggests that maybe claims-based is possibly here to stay and more important to the customer than it was in 2008 when buying patterns did change as a result of the recession.”

Consumers are constantly trying to make better choices when it comes to purchasing meat, for health, sustainability and animal welfare reasons.

“Claims allow consumers to confirm a meat product meets their requirements and quality standards, helping consumers feel better about the choices they are making when purchasing meat,” Marta said. “Grass-fed beef and pasture-raised lamb lends itself to being a leaner source of red meat and having a high plate yield. These proteins are a great source of 12 essential nutrients, including protein, iron and Vitamins B3 and B12.”

Consumers also seek out grass-fed products for environmental reasons, because grass-fed allows for biodiversity on farms and promotes healthy soil.

Salguero noted the growing trend is people want to feel good about the meat they are eating and are seeking out claims that will make them feel better about the choices they make, such as Free Range, Antibiotic-Free and Organic.

“These help the customers feel like they are making better buying decisions,” he said.

What’s popular

According to the 2022 Cryovac National Meat Case Study, all natural is the most popular claim in the meat case across proteins.

For that reason, Creekstone Farms created Natural Black Angus Beef with these shoppers in mind.

“This product offers USDA Prime and Choice beef produced from sustainably raised, all-natural cattle — no antibiotics, added hormones, growth promotants or artificial ingredients ever — and fed a 100% vegetarian diet,” Rogers said. “The Midan Beef Attributes study found that almost half of meat consumers associate beef quality with claims such as USDA Choice beef or USA-Raised.”

Verde Farms offers grinds and steaks that are USDA-certified organic, 100 % grass-fed, 100% grass-finished, Land to Market regenerative agriculture-verified and have no added growth hormones and no antibiotics.

“As the only organic beef company to also satisfy the rigorous Land to Market verification requirements, Verde Farms’ products are uniquely positioned to provide the benefits consumers are looking for,” Ehrlich said, citing things such as being leaner and lower in calories; having more Omega-3 fatty acids; higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; plus its humane treatment of animals and positive climate impact.

Impact of pandemic

Not only was year-over-year category growth accelerated in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, but it changed shopper behavior in a few notable ways, as well.

“The supply shortages that emerged during the pandemic forced consumers to be more open than they previously were to try new brands,” Ehrlich said. “The pandemic also made many consumers more health-aware than they had been, leading them to seek out products with more BFY attributes across categories, including claims-based meat.”

According to Power of Meat 2023, claims-based meat’s share of total fresh meat sales has increased 1% since pre-pandemic sales. Today, claim-based meat represents 12.7% of total meat case volume sales.

“Grass-fed sales have remained steady for beef and lamb, with ground beef driving the category,” Marta said. “Compared to pre-pandemic levels, grass-fed claims were up more than 20% in volume sales last year, despite some recent pressure likely caused by inflationary response.”

Marketing tips

Label claims help provide transparency to consumers, and this can be improved by providing point-of-sale materials or other marketing support to help consumers understand the value that these products bring.

Creekstone Farms provide tools like training cards to educate retail staff or developing point-of-sale materials to help drive sales of claims-based meat products.

“Most shoppers rely on the meat case for routine purchases and the full-service counter for special occasions and requests,” Rogers said. “Supporting our retail partners in both avenues is essential to promote claims-based meats.” Kirstyn Lipson, director of marketing for Verde Farms, noted that unlike its other adjacent categories like dairy and eggs, the meat category is often a confusing shelf set for consumers to shop without a lot of at-shelf signage to help them navigate good/better/best options.

“While research shows that 45% of shoppers say a verification seal would make them more likely to buy a product, there is also an opportunity for brands and retailers alike to help educate shoppers on what those verifications mean and which ones are right for them,” she said. 

“A few key strategies retailers can implement to help increase sales for claims-based meats include helping educate consumers about the benefits of all BFY claims through in-store signage and encourage brands to offer QR codes on their packaging to explain more benefits of the claims they offer.”

Ehrlich also suggests stores run cross-category deals (such as organic steak and eggs combo) to help attract new customers who may be shopping BFY in other categories but haven’t yet made the transition to BFY meats.

“BFY shoppers are interested in these attributes across categories, not just in dairy and eggs,” Ehrlich said. “Leverage at-shelf signage that groups brands/products by similar attributes or attribute stacks. Providing consumers with a good/better/best framework makes shopping the shelf-set less intimidating and is a structure they’re familiar with from other categories.” Consumers are looking to feed their families high-quality protein that aligns with their personal values. So, companies see an opportunity for retailers to prominently display products with attributes that meet their needs.

“Highlighting nutritional information such as protein content, or production claims such as all-natural or grass-fed, can capture these shoppers’ interest,” Marta said.

For example, Thomas Foods International USA recently launched new packaging that prominently displays its all-natural claims and Pasture Raised on lamb products, and Organic and Grass Fed & Grass Finished on beef products.

“It also features a QR code to help busy consumers with recipe inspiration, solving the meal planning mental load and making the purchase an easy decision,” Marta said. “This carries benefits for the retailer as well, as fresh meat purchases tend to result in an overall increased basket ring.”

Meat is the cornerstone to most people’s meals. As such, it’s personal for many consumers — not only do they want something that is better for them, better for the animals, and better for the planet, but they also want something that brings them joy, especially coming out of these past heavy few years.

“There may be a blip in what people are prioritizing,” Salguero said. “But people are feeling guilty about the meat they are eating, which is only going to continue, and they are finding ways to feel better about their purchases.”

This article is an excerpt from the December 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Claims-based feature and more in the digital edition here.