National Meat Case Study
March 31, 2005
By Ron Daines
March/April 2005 -- The number of packaged fresh meat items displayed in the retail case declined last year as meat prices rose and consumers leaned toward fully cooked items.
Despite the downturn, lamb items increased 1 percentage point last year, pushing lamb to 1.6 percent of the items in the fresh meat case compared with 1.4 percent in 2002.
"Lamb is still a minor percentage of the fresh meat case, but positive changes are taking place in the marketplace," said Chance Brooks, Ph.D., of Texas Tech University.
Brooks was citing figures from the National Meat Case Study that he conducted with Angela Reicks, a Ph.D. candidate in meat science at Texas Tech.
"We wanted to see what's happened to your product at retail, how lamb showed up in the meat case," said Brooks. "We looked at the trends affecting meat movement and how lamb is working in response to those trends."
Brooks and Reicks compared the results of last year's study, which looked at 104 stores in 29 states and 43 markets, with those from a similar study done in 2002, which surveyed 97 stores in 24 states and 35 markets.
Overall, said Brooks, all markets surveyed displayed beef, pork, chicken and turkey, while 81 percent displayed lamb, although lamb was displayed in all of the major markets. The Northeast and West Coast markets are the strongest for lamb.
He said case-ready packaging for lamb grew by 9 percent, an encouraging increase and a growing advantage because it's convenient for retailers and increasingly sought by consumers.
Brooks cited other findings from the 2004 survey, compared with findings from 2002:
Brooks said the choice of packaging materials is shifting in the fresh meat market, with vacuum packing increasing and PVC declining.
- the use of nutritional labeling for lamb increased 8 percentage points. "We really don't know how many people read or understand the nutritional labeling, but it's important nonetheless," said Brooks;
- the use of cooking information on the label increased 11 points;
- a natural claim was made on 22 percent of the lamb packages, second only to chicken for such a claim;
- enhancement (adding water) did not affect lamb as compared with other species;
- value-added efforts, like adding flavor to a product, also had little effect on lamb, but Brooks said adding value does represent a marketing opportunity;
- branding grew significantly, up to 47 percent in 2004 from 22 percent in 2002. There was more supplier branding and less store branding; and
- the use of net-weight packaging, where each package weighs the same and sells for the same price, was rare with lamb.