KANSAS CITY - Packaged fresh meat products in the supermarket have been on the rise for years. More of today’s convenience-obsessed consumers would rather grab a case-ready pack than wait for the butcher to weigh and pack it for them.

In the post-COVID age, that trend will only intensify, as human and food safety have joined convenience at the tops of consumers’ minds.

Hormel Deli Solutions, a division of Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, sees continued momentum toward convenient packaging that also works as a cooking aid, as well as being sustainable, said Megan Ward, Deli Solutions brand manager.

“Consumers are looking to make preparing the food easy and convenient, so having packaging that is ovenable, microwaveable, VSP and has less inner packaging and technology to have the packaging keep fried food crisp,” Ward said.

Hormel is constantly gaining insights from its consumers and hearing directly from them about what they’re looking for, she added. For example, products like Hormel’s new Perfect Plate items, which launched in mid-February, capitalize on these trends while also serving the functionality and safety of the products.

And those innovations will keep coming, Ward said, as Hormel keeps tracking ever-evolving consumer needs. “We continue to look at several options for our products.”

The supermarket instore deli offers a highly personalized experience, which consumers value, said Chris Conley, a consumer insights analyst for Hormel. And given the current pandemic, retailers and consumers are keeping safety top-of-mind.

“Consumers want to know the food they are buying is safe, minimally handled and available in a way that allows them to get in and out of the store quickly,” Conley said. “That is where packaging’s role comes into play, offering solutions that properly seal the product from the outside and minimize retail employees’ need to interact with the food.”

Transparency — literally

The biggest thing that continues to be a trend is having transparency on the packaging, said Kyle French, brand manager for Hormel’s Applegate brand.

That’s transparency taken literally, he said — as in, consumers want to be able to see the actual meat they’re buying and feel confident that it’s high quality.

“We’ve made an effort to show as much product through transparent packaging as possible, and we also ‘shingle’ out our meat — as opposed to using a ‘coin stack’ — to maximize visibility.”

Applegate recently transitioned its wall deli packaging away from peel and reseal to a new resealable zipper pack. These new packs, French said, are easier to close securely, so consumers can feel confident that the meat will stay fresh for longer in their fridge after initially opening.

The zipper packs, he added, are perfect for consumers who are now eating more meals at home, especially lunch.

“As consumers move to larger pack sizes — and buying more in general — it’s important that they’re able to keep these products fresh in their fridge for multiple uses through having an easy, secure method of resealing.

Ozlem Worpel, director of fresh meats marketing for Tyson Fresh Meats, a division of Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, said Tyson is continually evaluating and evolving its packaging to meet consumers’ and customers’ needs.

“Packaging remains the constant and primary way for brands to communicate with consumers, so to us, it’s intuitive for us to make continuous improvement a priority,” Worpel said.

Here are just a few of the recent packaging updates from Tyson:

  • Complete revamp of its ground beef chub design, spanning lean points, primal types and weights, to be more in line with consumer expectations.
  • Increase in vacuum-sealed packaging for increased shelf life.
  • The packaging for Open Prairie® Natural* Meats case ready meats includes the net weight and use-by date, which means the meat department can spend less time cutting, trimming and packing meat.
  • Increased use of rollstock packaging, which has the added benefit of being able to go straight into the freezer, a growing priority for many shoppers. This was particularly relevant over the last year, as consumers stocked their freezers. More than half (55%) of shoppers who buy meat said they plan to freeze it more often than normal, a July 2020 study by Midan Marketing found.

A recent Tyson study found that when it comes to packaging, consumers are most concerned with practicality. Packaging needs to serve a purpose in making their lives easier, e.g., easy to open, easily stored, resealable, etc. While consumers do take other attributes into consideration (e.g., environmentally friendly, shelf life, etc.), the company found that practicality and convenience were most important.

Packaging, Worpel said, plays an essential role in the shopping experience. It remains the constant and primary way for brands to communicate with consumers, it provides a point of differentiation for a brand, it can disrupt a category, connect with consumers and boost sales.

“If a consumer touches a package, they buy it more than 80% of the time,” Worpel said. “This is why, to us, it’s a priority to make sure we are featuring our fresh meat products in packaging with label elements that engage with the consumer because we think of it as the way our product is brought to life.”

Talking turkey

Packaging solutions that address sustainability and resilience – maximizing product freshness while minimizing waste – remain a focus across the turkey industry in 2021, said Beth Breeding, vice president of communications and marketing for the Washington, D.C.-based National Turkey Federation.

Something else to keep an eye on in the New Year: consumer shopping and cooking habits have shifted over the past several months, creating new opportunities for consumers to engage with turkey products, Breeding said.

“Retail turkey sales have been strong throughout much of the pandemic, with ground turkey as a major category leader,” she said. “From the National Turkey Federation’s perspective, we see this as a significant opportunity for retailers and the industry to reinforce these habits and highlight the versatility of turkey products.”

There has clearly been an appetite for food and cooking as a source of comfort, she added. Helping to guide home cooks in their meal prep will continue to play an important role, whether it’s a virtual cooking class, creating how-to videos or sharing simple recipes with consumers.