Ask a cattleman to describe consumer satisfaction for beef and he’s likely to mention the flavor of a tender steak cooked to perfection, or a cheeseburger with all the trimmings.

Ask a retail meat manager the same question and you’ll likely hear something much different. That’s why the results of the 2007 National Meat Case Study are so important.

During the first quarter of last year, Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging, the Beef Checkoff and the National Pork Board teamed up to conduct an extensive audit of the nation’s retail meat cases.

One hundred twenty one retail supermarkets and 10 club stores were audited in 48 metro markets across 34 states. Detailed information from more than 157,000 packages representing over 281,000 pounds of meat was captured to help further understand the growing transformation seen in the retail meat case over the last five years. The research project was benchmarked against the same study conducted in 2004 and 2002 to provide further insights into emerging retail trends nationally.

According to officials conducting the National Meat Case Study, the two most important questions that the results of this study answered are:

  • What are retailers around the country merchandising in their fresh meat cases?
  • How has this changed in the last couple of years?

During the time the study was conducted in early 2007, the overall economy was strong, despite higher prices for food and fuel. Retail meat prices were also increasing due to higher meat production and transportation costs, and increased meat demand. Researchers also noted that marketing efforts to older and ethnic shoppers continued to grow, and the natural products category continued to expand while the low-carb diet fad faded away.

The most significant result from the 2007 National Meat Case Study was that fresh meat’s share of the meat case increased. Specifically, fresh meat owned a 66 percent share of the self-service meat case’s linear feet in 2007, up from 63 percent in 2004. And beef’s share (whole muscle and ground) in 2007 was measured at 27 percent, up 1 percent from the 2004 share.

Consumer demand for more than just fresh meat was also apparent in results from the study. For instance, value-added packages — products with flavorings, seasonings, marinades, etc. — were up 4 percentage points to 10 percent of the total fresh meat packages. Natural and organic packages also grew in share in 2007. Packages with a natural claim increased to 29 percent of the packages, up 7 percentage points from 2004.

Possibly the most significant trend detailed by the National Meat Case Study was the increase in branding. In 2007, for the first time, the majority (51 percent) of beef was branded. The presence of supplier brands on all packages of fresh meat was similar in the 2007 study compared with 2004, with about half of all products containing a supplier label. Store branding, however, nearly doubled in 2007 compared with 2004. The study found that 23 percent of total fresh meat packages carried a store brand in 2007, compared with 12 percent in 2004.

For beef, the study found that 31 percent carried a store brand, more than double the 15 percent found in 2004. And 21 percent of ground beef carried a store brand in 2007, a three-fold increase from the 7 percent found in 2004.

The National Meat Case Study is an important benchmark for how the retail meat case is evolving to meet consumer demand. Spokesmen for the study said, “It’s the age old question — are consumers’ needs for variety in protein selection and ease of preparation shaping our stocking practices and communication vehicles at the meat case, or are our stocking practices and communication vehicles at the meat case shaping what consumers buy? We conclude that in today’s dynamic retail environment, both factors are shaping the modern meat case.”