By: Rick Stein, Vice President of Fresh and Frozen, FMI

Meat counter“What can I do with a top round?” “Can you trim the fat on these chops for me?” “How long does it take to defrost a turkey?”

Shoppers have questions when browsing the meat department, and those questions are often answered by butchers and associates – even in the TikTok era. Personal engagement is especially important in this category since consumers are frequently looking for preparation tips and recipes at the point of sale. The annual Power of Meat study affirms that today’s customers are still cooking at home and seeking even more ways to buy meat and get inspiration.

In addition to serving as important resources for shoppers in store, meat department team members are crucial to the success of the protein section and, consequently, the entire store. Staffing meat departments, however, is a growing challenge. Labor shortages, while easing somewhat, are still affecting retailers and meat departments. Finding skilled meat cutters, butchers and department associates can be difficult in today’s marketplace, with the task only becoming more difficult as experienced professionals move to retire.

Filling job openings and maintaining a robust pipeline of meat cutting and merchandising talent was a hot topic even before the pandemic and labor crunch hit. Now it’s even more of a priority, as retailers work to staff up and enhance resilience among current workers who may feel overburdened.

Mentorship, a cornerstone of recruitment and retention, is one way to foster interest in careers in meat retailing. Experienced butchers and department management can share their knowledge as well as their enthusiasm for this vocation to pass it on to a younger generation. This can be done informally on the job as well as in more formal internal training programs and even through vocational outreach at the community level, like speaking at local career fairs. In addition to competitive wages, security and a unique skillset, there are other benefits to this kind of role that can and should be shared with younger workers, whether its’s the reward of looking at a beautiful meat case or a “thank you” from a shopper that now knows how to cook a pot roast.

You can gain additional insights and expert advice for attracting and keeping meat department talent at the upcoming Annual Meat Conference, which fittingly has a 2024 theme of “Celebrating Meat.”: Sessions include:

  • The March 18 opening keynote address, “If You Can See It, You Can Be It” from Chef Jeff Henderson, explores the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship in the meat retail industry. 
  • The closing session on March 20, “Fast Attack Leadership: Applying The 5-Step Framework Nuclear Submarine Officers Use to Build Elite Teams to the Retail Meat Industry” highlights challenges in high-turnover workforces in the evolving meat retail industry.
  • The “Understanding Labor: Where We Are and Where We’re Going” session covers various aspects of labor.
  • New this year, a live beef carcass fabrication led by Jess Pryles “Hardcore Carnivore” and Diana Clark from Certified Angus Beef. Watch video here. 

Learn more and register