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From Left: Maple Leaf Foods’ Patrick Lufty; Brigitte Brandt-Welzel, Brandt Meats; Todd Van Eyk, Canada Beef
When it comes to protein intake, meat still reigns among consumers, but inflationary pressures and demand for healthier offerings are shifting the landscape; retailers will need to find inventive ways to create excitement in the category

Ongoing price fluctuations are impacting how shoppers purchase meat products and this is not likely to change in 2024, say industry suppliers.

For Maple Leaf Foods, this presents new opportunities for the fresh meat counter, says Patrick Lufty, senior vice president of marketing at Maple Leaf Foods.

“For instance, we are seeing increasing demand for delicious yet more affordable proteins like chicken drumsticks and ground chicken, which is a nutritious, lean, delicious and affordable alternative for chili, meatballs, and more. We are also seeing growth in large-format fresh meat trays, which enables packaging and labour cost savings that can be passed along to the shopper.” In the beef category, “customers are trading down by price point,” says Todd Van Eyk, merchandising manager for Canada Beef.

“For example, customers who previously bought rib-eye steaks are now opting for strip loin steaks, and those who used to buy strip loins are now purchasing top sirloin cuts.”

One of the concerns is that consumers may be unfamiliar with the cuts of beef they’re now purchasing and may not know the best way to prepare them, says Van Eyk.

“The disconnect between the consumer and the product has the potential to lead to a less satisfying eating experience if done without guidance. Education plays a vital role in ensuring a positive eating experience with every cut of Canadian beef purchased. Many retail meat departments are struggling to recruit and retain skilled labour, making the need for education even more prevalent.”

To address this, Van Eyk says Canada Beef has developed the Canadian Beef Information Gateway, a digital tool to act as a “one-stop resource for beef preparation tips and tricks.” Shoppers use their cell phones to scan barcodes and get information on cut-specific product know-how, including recipes, nutritional information, and cooking instructions. Despite the price pressures, consumers still seek out quality options, says Brigitte Brandt-Welzel, vice president of Brandt Meats, which specializes in deli meats.

“As it gets more expensive to dine in restaurants, they are seeking premium deli products to enjoy at home with family and friends. They are also looking for a wide variety of products to choose from and products that are unique or traditional when shopping or entertaining. There has also been a shift to premium products, such as craft artisan quality deli meats, as the Canadian consumers have greater awareness of nutrition and ingredients.”

Sustainable goals

Maple Leaf Foods’ Lufty says consumers are also “seeking to do good through what they eat” and says the company is focused on “sustainable and attainable for all Canadians.”

An example he cites is the company’s 100 per cent recyclable trays used for all of its fresh chicken, which are made with 95 per cent post-consumer recycled content. “We are also the largest producer of Raised Without Antibiotics (RWA) fresh meat in Canada – protecting their essential role in human health. It is important to offer these benefits to shoppers while also helping them make their dollars go further. To this end, we are revamping our Maple Leaf Prime RWA frozen poultry line-up for fall 2024. Keep an eye out for new recyclable and resealable packaging with more meat per pack, significantly improving the shopper value proposition.”

The pandemic effect

The pandemic marked a turning point for retailers. Virtually overnight, sales for meat and other groceries surged, pushing prices higher. Today though, the higher prices coupled with the ongoing pressures of inflation are creating challenges in the meat department, say suppliers. “Beef prices remain high, and consumers seek value-driven solutions at the shelf,” says Canada Beef’s Van Eyk. “The current landscape provides an opportunity for the beef industry to drive innovation and develop new solutions to address these market conditions. For example, some retailers are now taking advantage of previously underutilized cuts, such as the Tri-Tip and the Flat Iron. These and other previously lesser-known cuts are becoming more popular in the Canadian marketplace, leading us to believe that consumers are willing to try something new if the price point is attractive.”

Brandt-Welzel says the company is seeing a trend of more consumers staying at home and eating in. “Dining out has become a luxury or a special occasion treat. Because of this shift, you can find more options in terms of charcuterie meats, including speciality deli meats that may have not been mainstream before that are now available in major retailers. Variety is the spice of life and that is what consumers are expecting when they reach the deli counter.”

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