Meat Matters in More Ways Now Than Ever Mar 08, 2018 By: Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, Food Marketing Institute Last week while attending the Annual Meat Conference, my colleagues told me that I should be ready to be impressed by the industry and its people. And, I was! Every session provided insights and opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of meat in the food retail industry and beyond. What I learned is that meat is everywhere and it is expanding its reach. Here a few key take-a-ways from my time in Nashville: Customers are creatures of habit. I found it fascinating that most shoppers only buy a small group of variety and rarely stray from that finite group of proteins they are familiar with. However, the Power of Meat 2018 survey indicates that if someone would educate them, shoppers would be more willing to go outside their comfort zone and purchase meat varieties they have never tried. Meal kits are everywhere and everyone wants to be a part of them. Meal kits are running the gamut, with various types of protein often front-and-center in the kit offering. Meal kits are opening consumers’ eyes to new and different ways to incorporate protein into their meals. The convenience of meal kits is really resonating among shoppers. Value-added, heat-and-eat and ready-to-eat proteins perpetuate the convenience and variety trends from meal kits and have seen tremendous growth in recent years. The combination of convenience and variety of these meat offerings is appealing to consumers. Shoppers are looking to full service cases for marinated meats, stuff pork chops and chicken breast cordon bleu. Take a look at FMI’s Power of Foodservice at Retail for more on this. Unlike traditional grocery stores, ethnic and specialty grocery stores are an area of growth in food retail. While the changing demographics are obviously impacting this growth, so is Americans’ interest in food exploration. With these ethnic and specialty stores, there often come unique protein varieties and preparation methods. The ongoing health focus and demands for transparency among American shoppers can be seen in the growth of meats with special production attributes. Whether it is organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, or natural, shoppers are buying more of these products, seeing the claims on packages and saying it is impacting their purchase decisions. There is also the value side of the equation. Value meat sales have also grown over the past few years as limited assortment and discount food retailers continue to expand and consumers seek out better deals. Not only did I get to take in all this great information, I had a chance to spend an afternoon in the Exhibit Hall, which included more than 100 companies offering the opportunity to see and learn about their newest and best meat products, not to mention tasting a few samples. What an eye opening (and stomach expanding) experience the Annual Meat Conference proved to be. I cannot wait until next year March 3-5, 2019 in Dallas!