When compared to other center of store categories, the meat department has historically been underserved in terms of insights that help inform better merchandising, promotions, and pricing decisions.
The meat industry’s laser focus on a high service level with delivery of product to shelf, while critically important, results in uncertainty in how to simultaneously anticipate the modern consumer in a way that's proactive and progressive. Case in point: the industry’s largely reactive response to the explosion of plant-based and meat-alternative products. What followed were the kind of merchandising decisions that may have led to lower meat department sales overall, like shelf space being over-allocated to this small niche segment.
Throughout the grocery store, from salty snacks to household products, brands are going a lot further for their retail customers than filling supply with a more holistic service value philosophy. In the yogurt case, brands like Dannon and Yoplait fight to be “category captain” with teams dedicated to delivering key category management insights. This CPG mindset hasn’t taken hold in the meat department, in part because the majority of meat is sold as unbranded commodity. Anyone looking to grow their business would benefit from adopting it though, and the meat industry has a great opportunity to bring more to the table like category and consumer insights, educational materials, and marketing support to help retailers grow their meat department sales.
This is particularly true for small and niche providers. Despite organic and grass-fed beef sales being more than $1 billion per year in grocery and foodservice (and growing year over year), it still makes up a single-digit percentage of overall meat sales. Accordingly, store category managers are devoting a comparable amount of their time and attention— and even less in times of supply chain upheaval like in the last year.
At Verde, checking the grass-fed and organic boxes and filling supply is crucial, but not enough. We’ve come to understand that being a true value partner to customers means offering services from data analysis and consumer insights to promotional support. As we’ve grown as a company, we’ve added resources with a CPG-minded intent of helping customers grow. At BJs, for example, we’ve helped right-size store assortment by sharing store by store-level analysis to reduce shrink, remedy out-of-stocks, and increase organic grass-fed beef sales year over year.
Premium meat providers tend to have a pulse on consumer motivations and prominent modern profiles like the “flexitarian.” It’s important those insights are relayed through valuable service offerings to help retailers earn their share of wallet. Most Americans enjoy meat and believe it’s part of a healthy diet, but we as providers can do more to help retailers capture the attention and loyalty of consumers, particularly when it comes to conscientious carnivores.
Dana Ehrlich is CEO and founder of Verde Farms.