The North American Meat Institute Foundation, Food Marketing Institute, and Sealed Air Food Care recently released the 2016 Power of Meat report. Based on this year, the future is bright for both supermarket and meat department sales. When retailers hone in on shopper demographics and their specific needs as consumers, everybody wins. It’s important for department managers or store owners to track demographic information on an individual store level, but here are some overarching trends based on the 2016 survey.

Changing Customer Habits

After a three-year decline of retaining shoppers in supermarkets, 2016 marked a reversal in this trend, with an 86 percent conversion rate. Meat departments had a huge role to play in retaining customers, with 62 percent of shoppers purchasing meat and seafood at supermarkets compared to other channels such as farmer’s markets, dollar stores, or online. Overall, consumers (60 percent) are choosing to spend about the same amount on meat purchases, but they are buying less volume. Furthermore, ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat meals are on the rise, with nearly half of all shoppers opting for these convenient meal options.

What Influences Buying Decisions

So what has been contributing to these changes in consumer behavior? Price still reigns as the number-one driver for purchase decisions in meat and seafood. As price per pound and total package price has shifted somewhat, so have the purchases of beef, poultry, and other meat selections. Close behind price, however, is product appearance. Freshness and quality are toward the forefront of consumers’ concerns, with around 60 percent of shoppers wanting meat products packaged in leakproof, resealable, and freezer-ready containers. Shoppers look for transparent packaging to inspect the color of the meat with an easy-to-read sell-by date.

Food Quality & Freshness

Over half of all consumers determine freshness based on sell-by date and the color of the meat. Knowing this fact about their shoppers, grocery stores should offer transparent packaging with specific information about the age of meat, seafood, or poultry.

Customer Service

According to the 2016 Power of Meat report, “customers who interact with employees, whether at the service counter or any type of personal assistance, are ‘highly satisfied’ with their shopping trips 18 and 19 percent more, respectively, than those who did not visit the counter or receive help.” Meat departments have a huge role to play in customer satisfaction. With a knowledgeable, friendly staff at the meat counter to help with purchase decisions, supermarkets will continue to be a major channel shoppers patronize.

Perceived Quality Vs. Actual Quality

Of course, consumers make buying decisions largely based on perceived quality of the product, meaning that product appearance is a major contributing factor. While beef, for instance, is naturally more of a brown or purple color, color is added to make it appear more red, and therefore more appealing to shoppers. Perceived quality is important for buying decisions, but actual quality should be just as important for retailers. Ensuring the highest quality of meat and seafood products improves customer retention by attending to their need for a healthy, safe, sustainable food product that also tastes delicious.

What separates an exceptional supermarkets apart is the attention to quality and customer service. Maintaining cleanliness and stocked inventory are key factors in contributing to the shopper’s satisfaction. Furthermore, grocery stores should take the opportunity to educate their customers in engaging ways. Offering recipe suggestions,  providing instructions on how to prepare meat, and answering questions face-to-face at the service counter all elevate the customer’s shopping experience.

Consumer Education

In addition to recipe suggestions and proper meat preparation, part of educating consumers includes how to properly store their meat products. As many as 40 percent of customers remove meat from the original packaging and repackage it before preparing it, breaking the vacuum seal and reducing product freshness. And when retailers invest in measures to improve or ensure the quality of food products their shoppers purchase, they should let their customers know that food safety and freshness are top priorities.

DekFRESH technology by Borgen Systems provides the quality retailers and consumers rely on. The cooling deck doesn’t have as many spaces for bacteria to get trapped and grow like traditional cases, which allows meat to stay fresh up to two days longer. The streamlined design also improves sightlines, so customers can see more product all at once. Available in standard service and open service designs, the DekFRESH technology case provides an opportunity for the knowledgeable staff to interact with customers to provide them with an extra level of superior service.

There is no one-size-fits-all method of attracting and retaining customers; however, when supermarkets focus on providing the best experience with the best products available customers will notice. By supplying the right equipment, fresh products, transparent packaging, and excellent customer service, supermarkets can rest assured that the shopper conversion rate will continue to increase.