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    FRESH FOOD: Meat: Branding irons in the fire

    Today's meat case can have more brands than a rustler's herd. What do shoppers see when they look.

    These days, there's no shortage of distinct, identifiable brands in the meat case. From national brands to local ones, and down to retailer labels, consumers now have more options than ever when purchasing fresh meat products. And you know what some marketing experts say about the risks in offering too much choice.

    The "2007 National Meat Case Study," conducted by Cryovac/Sealed Air, the National Pork Board, and the Beef Checkoff, bears this trend out. The comprehensive study concluded that 71 percent of total fresh meat products now carry a supplier or store brand.

    Indeed, the proliferation of brand names in the fresh meat case offers customers many more choices. However, it may also create confusion, as shoppers try to decipher the differences between those choices based on claims of quality, taste, natural origin, and pricing.

    To gain a better understanding of consumers' perceptions -- and perhaps levels of confusion -- regarding multiple meat brands in supermarkets, Bethesda, Md.-based Shugoll Research, Inc. and Chicago-based Midan Marketing collaborated to produce a new study, "Power of Brands: Assessing the Role of Branding in Meat Selection and Purchase."

    "The results of this research provide the meat industry with important insights into consumers' perceptions and attitudes about brands they encounter when shopping for fresh meat," says Midan Marketing principal Michael Uetz. "It also addresses the value consumers place on different meat brands, and will assist meat marketers in better communicating with shoppers about their brands' unique attributes."

    Using online surveys, the researchers collected and analyzed data from 600 consumers in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, and Philadelphia to ensure geographic diversity and broad representation of brands.

    "The questionnaire looked across several different brand classifications, including national brands, private label brands, natural/organic brands, and store brands," says Merrill Shugoll, president of Shugoll Research.

    The researchers took the prudent step of defining these classifications -- a step that alone could go a long way toward helping to clear up any prevailing confusion. They defined them as follows:

    --National: A supplier-offered brand that's available to retailers on a national basis.

    --Private label: A brand that's developed and offered specifically for a given retailer.

    --Natural/organic: A brand that's labeled natural or organic.

    --Store/commodity: No brand, or a commodity product that's labeled with a store's name.

    Brand recollection, recognition

    The survey results show consumers are aware that there are many different brands in the meat case. However, when they're asked to spontaneously recall specific brands of beef, pork, and chicken, many are not able to recall any.

    In fact, half of respondents to the survey weren't able to name at least one pork brand, and 46 percent weren't able to name any beef brand. Chicken recall was much better among survey respondents, with only 29 percent unable to identify any chicken brands at all.

    In this case, familiarity seems likely to breed recognition, which bodes well for branders that spend time and money promoting. "This higher recognition by consumers of chicken brands may be due to the length of time chicken brands have been available in the fresh meat case," says Uetz. "National and regional suppliers have consistently promoted their brands to consumers."

    Aided recall of brands was much higher for all proteins, with more than half (55 percent) of respondents naming five or more beef brands, and 50 percent naming as many chicken brands. Still, most consumers were able to name only two pork brands. (See chart at right.)

    Brands they prefer

    Although study participants weren't able to identify more than a few brands of meat spontaneously, 75 percent were able to identify a preferred brand of meat when viewing a list of common brands sold at their own supermarkets. What's more, overwhelmingly, the preferred brands were national in scope, again probably testimony to the power of sophisticated marketing. (See chart below.)

    "Overall, 54 percent of consumers preferred a national brand of meat over others, while another 9 percent preferred a store's private label brand," notes Shugoll.

    National brands outmuscle store brands handily when it comes to shoppers' preferences, in every protein category.

    Within the different proteins, store brand preference was stronger in beef than in chicken and pork. Still, at 20 percent it pales next to national brand preference at 43 percent.

    "The preference for private label beef is significantly higher than chicken or pork," confirms Uetz, adding that the preference "might be the result of the proliferation of private label beef programs in fresh meat cases across the country during the past few years."

    In chicken, 69 percent prefer national brands over private label or all others (which include organic/natural and store/commodity, among others), and a mere 3 percent prefer private label.

    Differentiating by price

    Overall, almost half (47 percent) of consumers believe there's a difference between fresh meat brands, with 56 percent indicating that different brands vary greatly on price, followed next by value, quality, and then tenderness.

    Shoppers perceive wide variations between brands, especially in price, value, quality, and tenderness.

    Price is a powerful enough motivator to override brand preference. A large percentage of shoppers, 88 percent, say they don't purchase their preferred brands of meat at times, mostly due to a higher price point, or the lack of availability of the brand in their primary store.

    Perhaps those differences play a role in prompting some shoppers to be willing to pay more for certain brands. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents believe they pay more than $1 per pound more for branded meat vs. nonbranded options.

    When shoppers were asked how much more they're willing to pay for a preferred brand of meat, on a percentage basis, 84 percent said they're willing to pay 5 percent more, 76 percent are willing to pay up to 10 percent more, and 55 percent are willing to pay 20 percent more.

    Further, 41 percent said they would buy more branded fresh meat if it didn't cost so much more.

    Brands create loyalty

    A store's meat case product mix will often help determine the level of a customer's loyalty. In this study, more than a quarter (27 percent) of respondents strongly agreed that they often choose a store because of the beef, pork, and chicken brands the store carries.

    In total, nearly three-quarters agree that carrying certain brands plays a role in the store they choose to shop. "This certainly shows the significance of the meat department, and of the brands represented within it," notes Uetz.


    About "The Power of Brands"

    "The Power of Brands research gathers together a wealth of additional shopper information on meat brands, including penetration, awareness, preferences, and drivers for purchase, as well as profiling users by category of brand, specific brands, where these consumers shop within each of the four test markets, and how often they shop for meat.

    Moreover, the survey also captured the profile of brand-loyal meat shoppers, attitudinal and demographic differences of shoppers by store format, and a profile of shoppers most likely to pay for branded vs. unbranded meat. For additional information visit www.PowerofBrands.com.

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