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The highlight of the Annual Meat Conference is always the exhibit hall and tasting event, and this year’s offerings did not disappoint.
Attendees spent their Monday afternoon in Nashville sampling the wares of vendors at 75 booths, offering proteins of all sorts in various formats and flavors. The best products delivered on multiple trends, including great taste, convenience, on-the-go snacking and – fittingly – protein.
Smithfield is rolling out a new product that hits on the key trends of on-the-go snacking and protein: Ready, Snack, Go is a five-flavor line that teams ham or turkey rolled up with cheese in a convenient snack that delivers 9 grams of protein at 90 calories per serving. Smithfield’s Keller Watts said the product is aimed at providing fast convenience for adults and younger consumers.
Buddig’s Old Wisconsin brand displayed its new Natural Cut meat snacks line in a merchandiser ready for the grocery sales floor. With packaging emphasizing protein. Tom Buddig says the company aims to display the product alongside protein bars and other nutritionally dense products in areas not commonly associated with meat snacks, a category that’s seeing significant growth.
The brand also offers “Fast Fuel” meat snack pouches that have done well in school vending, Buddig said.
Tyson Foods has expanded its Crafted Creations line to include chicken products in addition to seasoned beef and pork selections. The boneless/skinless breasts and thighs, along with drumsticks, come in bold flavor mashups like Orange Peel, Spicy Tomato Beer and Smokey Barbecue. Tyson’s Paul Connor said the line specializes in diverse, multicultural flavor combinations. “We’ll do more fusions as we go along,” he said, noting the line has been embraced by multiple retail formats.
Meanwhile, Tyson has extended its clean-label Open Prairie brand to include pork. Tyson’s Kent Harrison explained the line is made from vegetarian-fed pigs raised without gestation crates or antibiotics. “We believe it will really grow,” he said.
Cargill was premiering its Today’s Kitchen line of value-added proteins “built around the consumer’s need for convenience and gourmet taste,” explained Cargill’s Brian Bell. Parmesan-crusted chicken cutlets and beef pinwheels with spinach and garlic herb butter shared space with kabobs and flavored burgers.
Further, Cargill was showing off a bold, new look for its Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkey brands. The January packaging relaunch featured more prominent nutrition facts and color added to the farm scene to drive home the brand’s family farm message. The relaunch, which includes grinds, whole birds and preseasoned tenderloins, is being supported by a TV, FSI and social media campaign.
Also sporting new packaging were products by D’Artagnan, the gourmet meat purveyor. “We want to show people we are in all the good restaurants in America and translate that to retail,” explained company founder Ariane Daguin. The new brand image unifies D’Artagnan’s product lines. The company also offers Amish chicken under the Green Circle brand, vegetable fed and “certified humane.”
Grass-fed beef with a clean label is the milieu of Pre Brands, which CEO Lenny Lebovich said operates by “finding what the consumers wants and work backward.”
Case in point: the brand’s clear flippable packaging that allows shoppers to see both sides of their steak before purchase. Focusing on health and taste, Pre offers ribeyes, strip steaks, sirloins, tenderloin and grinds, with no added hormones or antibiotics.
“We built a supply chain to deliver a great eating experience,” Lebovich said, noting the company is focusing on mainstream grocers. “They need someone to build this equity for them.” With products currently sold in nine states, Lebovich said Pre is “not going to invest without proper alignment with our customers.”
Sealed Air Corp. displayed its Darfresh on Tray meat packaging solution that eliminates scrap and provides a clear view of the contents on both sides. Holes in the corners of the trays speed up the vacuum packing process, explained Sealed Air’s Sean Brady: “Consumers have always like this, now it’s easier for processors.” Brady described the process as “operational efficiency meets sustainability.”
Notable among other exhibitors:
Campofrio displayed a vast assortment of robust Italian and Spanish charcuterie.
Clemens Food Group offered bacon, ribs and spicy dip made with its Hatfield branded chorizo.
DiLuigi Foods sampled its Chicken Cordon Bleu Bites and Buffalo Chicken Meatballs.
Everson Spice sampled Nashville hot chicken tenders, chili lime country pork ribs and carne asada skirt steak made with their seasonings.
FPL Food LLC was showing off lines it makes for retail and foodservice, including an assortment of beef cuts from cattle raised in the Southeast, plus a wide variety of burgers and ground beef.
Gold’n Plump sampled its Artisan Chicken Sausages in Hickory Smoked Apple and Bacon Gouda; company is transitioning to no antibiotics ever.
Golden West Food Group sampled several products made with Certified Angus Beef, including a Steakhouse Beef Tri Tip and a beer chili.
Maya Kaimal is targeting Millennials with its line of authentic Indian simmer sauces, to which consumers add protein for a complete meal. The company’s Antonio Fontanes said the company has seen huge growth for the product by positioning it in the meat case.
Perdue, continuing to promote its “no antibiotics ever” profile, sampled two new fully-cooked frozen items: Southern Style Fried Chicken Breast Fillets and Sweet & Spicy Boneless Breasts.
Schweid & Sons, a foodservice company now selling retail products, offering samples of its “very best burger” and displayed a 10-pound patty.
Spartanburg Meat Processing Co. sampled its pulled pork and back ribs.
Swaggerty’s Farm, which sponsored the morning’s attendee breakfast, sampled its beer brats and Italian sausage.
Thomas Foods International sampled Australian lamb chops and kobe beef sliders.
Dynamics of meat retailing
The day’s general and breakout sessions tackled meat merchandising, e-commerce, GMOs and commodity pricing.
Jerry Kelly, national business development manager for Sealed Air Corp., presented “Dynamics of the Meat Case,” revealing the results of Cryovac’s 2015 National Meat Case Study.
Sealed Air and Texas Tech University teamed up to audit the meat cases of major supermarket chains, supercenters club and small format stores across the country, noting meat types sold and linear feet of self-service cases.
“The big story is beef,” Kelly said, noting the presence of packaged beef is down 3 percent in supermarkets and 8 percent in club stores since 2010 when the study was last conducted, the volume absorbed by ground beef and pork.
Meanwhile, “other” products gained space in the self-service case: processed meat, sausage, ham, seafood, value-added products and side dishes, “almost a 60-40 split, relatively constant over time,” Kelly said, “driven by the heat-and-serve category.”
Turkey, chicken and ground beef gained linear feet presence, while SKUs are consolidating for beef, pork, lamb and veal products.
Beef lost nine SKUs since 2010 and average pounds per package fell two-tenths of a pound. Kelly noted: “Two-tenths times all the packages sold adds up to a lot.” Meanwhile, the average number of packages per foot in the meat case dropped by 1.6 packages, which Kelly called “huge.” Share of boneless products grew from 57 to 67 percent.
The study team found that production claims surged, with organic claims making huge gains, especially for ground beef and chicken.
Store branding gained significantly, Kelly noted: “Stores have made a huge shift in branding their products.” Additionally, vacuum packaging made significant gains.
Michele Southall, director of industry development for retail grocery at standards organization GS1 US, discussed the basics of e-commerce, noting that in 2015, 46 percent of consumers named supermarkets as their primary food store, down from 56 percent in 2012, due to growth of competing alternatives across multiple channels.
“People don’t shop online or in a story – they just shop,” Southall said. “The lines between real and virtual are increasingly blurred.”
Online product information must be consistent, simply explained and easily searchable; Southall noted that GS1 helped develop bar codes, data carriers and other technology requires for e-commerce sales.
Southall offered data showing 75 percent of online shoppers shop at least twice a week, versus 59 percent of in-person shoppers. Grocery still holds a slight edge with in-person shoppers, 76 percent of whom said the grocery store was their primary reason for shopping within the past month, versus 71 percent of online shoppers. All other channels – mass, club, specialty, convenience, drug, dollar – favor online shoppers.
Southall cautioned grocers not to take this lightly as shoppers continue to streamline their routines, seek stress-free experiences, more carefully manage their time and focus on getting exactly what they want.
E-commerce is going to rely heavily on data quality, which has five benefits on the shopper experience: cost savings, enhanced collaboration between trading partners, risk mitigation, improved retail execution and shopper benefit.
Southall advised e-tailers to understand the customer journey, build shared goals and flexible experiences, target potential pain points, identify the anchors of your framework and optimize as customers’ expectations change.
Day two of the conference began as it historically does with a market outlook for meat and poultry by three leading industry economists: Paul Aho, economist and consultant on poultry; Randy Blach, CEO of CattleFax, reporting on beef; and Steve Meyer, VP of EMI Analytics, reporting on pork.
All three agreed that lower feed corn prices has brought lower prices and helped drive sales across all meat types.
Chicken per capita consumption is up to 90 pounds after a decline due to recession, high costs and a decline in foodservice sales. Poultry consumption has surpassed red meat and continues to grow, while eggs are slowly coming back as flocks are rebuilt following last year’s bird flu outbreak.
Blach said beef herd numbers are up 3 million head and “we’ll continue to see year-over-year increases.” Retail beef prices declined 5 percent between October and January, and Blach said this should benefit retailers looking to boost sales.
Meyer noted the lowest pork costs since 2007, due to a “great feed supply.” Macroeconomic conditions impacting the market “continue positive but not robust,” such as a slow GDP, lower unemployment and lower oil prices.
Meat and poultry demand “has been on a great run,” Meyer said, up 5.7 percent since 2011; consumption is up but still 4.5 percent lower than a 2006 peak.
Responding to an audience question, Aho said he expects that, within 10 years, antibiotics could be gone from poultry production: “If consumers want it, we’re going to do it.”
The morning’s closing general session featured NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving analyzing the presidential election season.
Follow our live event coverage on Twitter at @jimdudlicek and @pgrocer.