It’s evident from the historical data that the demand for case-ready is climbing.

According to the 2024 Power of Meat research, case-ready favorability is continuing to climb, and it’s the younger generation that’s driving that growth. It was also shared that consumer perception of case-ready meat is changing, with 87% of consumers saying case-ready is as good or better than meat cut and packaged in the store.

“This is exciting for the industry because the time is now to build up our case-ready portfolios,” said Rikki Ingram, director of fresh meats marketing for Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods. “Shoppers today are all about convenient and efficient mealtime solutions—especially the younger generation. Today’s shopper is looking to minimize waste, whether that be packaging waste or food, while still exploring new cuts of meat or flavors.”

The Power of Meat also shared that images of packaged meat and poultry are preferred from an eCommerce perspective. With the growing number of consumers shopping online, it’s crucial for retailers to fill their meat departments with quality cuts of meat that are attractively and appropriately packaged.

Luke LaPerriere, vice president of retail innovations for Perdue Premium Meat Company, supports the company’s Niman Ranch, Coleman Natural and Panorama Grassfed Beef brands, and believes the trend of case-ready meat is only going to continue climbing.

“It’s extremely encouraging how consumers feel about the quality of the product that comes into a store that’s case-ready,” he said. “A lot of consumers don’t understand the difference as case-ready has become more the norm. And case-ready is certainly a necessity today.”

Jamie Dik, head of Cargill’s case-ready protein business, said that for retailers, one of the most exciting trends is that 9 of 10 shoppers believe case-ready meat is the same quality or better as meat that is cut and packaged in-store.

“That’s a record-high acceptance rate according to Cargill’s recent research, and it provides retailers with the opportunity to utilize case-ready meat as a labor-saving option,” Dik said. “It allows their meat department employees to spend less time in the back room and more time out front helping shoppers.”

Kelly Zimmerman, innovation and insights manager for Harrisonburg, Va.-based Farmer Focus, noted as people are returning to work and looking for added convenience in general, these value-add items really help to make the meat case a destination in the grocery store.

“Our year-to-date dollars per store selling is up 35% solely case-ready product,” she said. “We attribute this to consumer support of ‘better for you’ brands, as well as shifting generational mindsets. Consumers want to build relationships with brands, and the on-pack messaging on case-ready products allows a unique connection point between shoppers and brands that isn’t always available at the meat counter.”

There are a growing number of product offerings in case-ready as it has increased beyond core products to include new cuts, proteins, and value-add items.

“With 75% of shoppers looking to recreate restaurant meals at home, case-ready provides solutions to make every meal occasion special,” Zimmerman said. “63% of consumers like to know where their food comes from, and case-ready packaging provides them an opportunity to learn more about the products and brands they are shopping.”

The category expands

To remain at the forefront of industry trends, it’s imperative that companies expand and diversify their case-ready portfolio.

For instance, the innovations team at Tyson Foods is constantly working to identify opportunities for growth, consistently prioritizing its case-ready product line.

“This focus is strategic and is not only critical for our team, but for the industry as a whole,” Ingram said. “Our roll stock case-ready portfolio is expanding, featuring new Chairman’s Reserve Platinum Beef offerings and two additional Chairman’s Reserve Prime Pork items. Our Tyson seasoned and marinated case-ready portfolio is also growing to include pork loin filets in five flavors, pork loin griller steaks in steakhouse, herb and olive oil, homestyle rotisserie, teriyaki and Southwest.”

Tyson Foods will also be introducing seasoned and marinated poultry such as portioned chicken breast filets, chicken breast fajita strips, chicken tenders and thighs in the year ahead.

LaPerriere noted rollstock vacuum packaging has become really accepted by consumers.

“When they were first introduced, it was difficult to believe consumers would accept something in a brick form, but they have,” he said. “Our products have an easy-open, easy-peel, and is freezer ready, which I think consumers are looking for.”

Danielle Marta, director of marketing and product management for Thomas Foods International, USA, noted case-ready meats are incredibly versatile and a great way to shop for fresh meats for day-of preparation, weekly meal planning, and even for consumers to stock up their freezers for a later day.

“Most items are recipe- and grill-ready and already cut to portion size,” she said. “Case-ready proteins offer an extended shelf life, so we should highlight their overall freshness for meal planning, convenience as a grab-and go selection in the meat case, and easy preparation.”

Thomas Foods offers a full portfolio of case-ready meats including pasture-raised lamb, grass fed and organic beef, Angus, Wagyu, milk-fed veal, free range goat, pork, and exotics including bison and venison.

Alicja Spaulding, chief marketing officer for Rastelli Foods Group, a global food processor and distributor based in Swedesboro, N.J., noted that the Annual Meat Conference spotlighted a trend towards proportioned steaks and meat cuts representing an important shift towards efficiency and sustainability in the meat industry.

“This trend is a response to consumers’ needs for products that are easy to manage, store, and cook, reducing waste and optimizing value,” she said. “It’s particularly exciting because it showcases innovation in response to evolving consumer preferences, focusing on providing precisely what is needed without excess.”

In response to these trends, Rastelli Foods Group offers an extensive lineup of case-ready products, including Korean BBQ Beef Strips, Lemon Herb Chicken Thighs, and Thai Ginger Pork Chops, available in both roll stock and modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), with net weight and catch weight options to suit different consumer needs.

“We’ve also developed a comprehensive line of portioned cuts and steaks, with a particular focus on beef steaks,” Spaulding said. “This range is designed to cater to the growing demand for precise portioning, reducing prep time and waste for our customers. These products are retail case- ready and available in both MAP and roll stock, with net and catch weight options to provide flexibility and choice.”

Case-ready is also a great answer for decision fatigue around mealtime as the average shopper only has 32 minutes to prep a meal during the week, with Gen Z reporting less time at only 24 minutes, according to Power of Meat.

“Many case-ready products offer a timely and nutritious mealtime solution,” Zimmerman said. ‘Case-ready packaging also benefits stock-up shopping occasions, as it helps meat stay fresh longer and is freezer ready.”

The demand for case-ready meat is only growing. Shoppers are asking for even more convenient, affordable and nutritious protein options. Sixty-five percent who responded to a recent Cargill survey said they wanted to make a meal in less than 30 minutes, that they needed help with planning meals ahead of time, and sought new ideas for meals.

Another issue is that retailers face on-going labor challenges amid this rising market demand. In fact, one recent industry survey indicated a labor shortage was retailers’ biggest operational challenge in 2023.

“In January, Cargill announced that we invested in two processing facilities to help it expand its production and distribution of supermarket case-ready beef with the purchase of two meat plants from longtime partner Ahold Delhaize,” Dik said. “That move will enable us to continue to serve the U.S. grocery store retailer’s brands such as Food Lion, Giant and Stop & Shop, while expanding our case-ready production and distribution capabilities to additional retailers from the two plants.”

Highlighting benefits

Consumers are drawn to convenience as they look for quick-to-make yet nutritious meal options to bring some simplicity to their busy lifestyles, said BobbyJoe Walters, senior director of marketing, fresh for Perdue Farms, Salisbury, Md.

She noted the company has continued to expand its value-added step-saving products, like Perdue Perfect Portions, Perdue Fresh Cuts, Perdue Oven Ready and Perdue Ground Chicken, to better attract consumers to case-ready meat at the supermarket.

“Visually, at the end of last summer, Perdue began rolling out a graphic refresh across our entire ground chicken and ground turkey portfolio to increase consumer awareness, trial and consumption of this already fast-growing category,” she said. “Some of the key elements of the new packaging include a bold design to catch the eye of shoppers, more relevant claims and benefits, color coding for improved shop-ability, and end dish recommendations for further inspiration.”

In addition, highlighting features like shelf-life, freshness, quality, portion control and ease of storage will also resonate well with shoppers.

Marta noted that consumers are prioritizing all-natural and grass-fed claims more and more, and marketing should highlight this, but also how convenient working with case-ready meat can be.

“Using simple messaging on the product that informs consumers what to do with the meat is really helpful, such as ‘Great for Grilling,’ or ‘Perfect for Roasting’ stickers,” Marta said. “It’s helpful to remind consumers that they can prepare a range of proteins quickly at home; for example, you can sauté lamb loin chops as easily as you can brown ground meat to have on the table in under 15 minutes.”

In the post-Covid return to work environment, schedules are busier, and shoppers are seeking options that are not only convenient, but affordable. Inflation is prompting shoppers to seek innovative ways to stretch their dollar without compromising quality and case-ready helps answer these needs.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2024 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Case-ready Meat feature and more in the digital edition here.