Giving consumers preparation instructions can light a fire under chicken sales, a panel of industry experts told an audience recently.
The educational program, aimed at chicken marketers, focused on using basic consumer-friendly strategies, such as leak-proof packaging and cooking instructions, to build up poultry sales.
“The younger generation can’t cook,” noted one consultant, and others echoed that sentiment. “If you don’t believe it, then go to dinner sometime at your son’s or daughter’s house.”
While for some, preparing chicken may be a snap, many view cooking as a difficult chore. Increasingly, the task of teaching culinary basics is landing in the laps of retailers and their suppliers.
In fact, Raymond Bozzacco, vice president of meat and seafood at 159-unit Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., urged suppliers to help out by including preparation and cooking instructions on packages of chicken and other fresh products.
“On the package, tell people what to do with the product when they get it home,” Bozzacco said. “Does it need to be marinated? What seasonings? We have recipe cards and brochures all over, but we seldom have to fill those. Most people don’t use recipes. On the other hand, anything can do prior to their purchasing the product that will make it easier for to cook it at home is going to be very successful. That’s the kind of support we need.”
Bozzacco stated that Meijer also has experimented with having local restaurant chefs come into selected stores to demo fresh meat products and, in the bargain, give customers practical cooking tips.
“Can you believe retail and food service working together?” he asked. “Well, it works. They’re promoting their local restaurants at the same time we’re promoting the product. I’ve recently invited chefs into the store to prepare Black Angus beef, and I see an opportunity to do the same with chicken.”
Other speakers urged retailers and their suppliers to take advantage of chicken’s soaring popularity.
The demand right now is high. NCC-sponsored research this spring showed more consumers have been moved into the chicken category and those already purchasing chicken are becoming more frequent users. Retailers recently told SN that, even though they’ve raised their prices slightly in the face of soaring wholesale costs, their tonnage sales of chicken are up significantly this year.
The high-protein, low-carb diet craze deserves some of the credit for the trend. Yet speakers warned that retailers should not relax, but continue to come up with ways to please their customers.
“We are the agents of the customer,” said Ken Parnell, principal, P&L Consulting. “We’re not in the business of simply buying and selling poultry and poultry products. As agents, we should involve the customer in every decision we make. We should constantly keep in touch to find out what they want.”
To do that, Parnell suggested taking observations at store level; talking to customers; and asking employees, family and friends what they like and don’t like. For instance: Is the package size right? Does it leak?
“We’re all consumers,” he said. “You don’t need a formal customer survey. Your lowest-paid employees sometimes give you the best feedback. Step back and take a new look at your business. What changes could be made? The future is the brightest ever, but you have to have the right item at the right price at the right time at the right location.”
As Parnell and others pointed out, “The customer is king, and convenience is king.” An official with a research firm that tracks trends in the food-service arena agreed and underscored the importance of the convenience factor.
“Twenty percent of restaurant meals bought today are bought at a drive-thru window. The biggest competition for supermarkets comes from takeout,” said Harry Balzer, a vice president with The NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y.
Supermarket delis in particular already offer products that are extremely comparable to what is being bought at restaurant takeout windows, Balzer noted.
“For example, 17.4% of restaurant orders include sandwiches,” he said. “That’s up from 16% in 1998. The big market for food in this country is what happens inside the house. Home accounts for 77% of food we consume. That’s a big number. If you go back 10 years, that number would be 79%. So there’s only a loss of two points in 10 years. We like to eat at home.”
Yet convenience has big value, he said, especially when it comes to easy eating, such as handheld foods, and in simple preparation. In supermarkets, Balzer sees on the horizon more prepared foods and items that are easy to put on the table.
Meijer’s Bozzacco said while low price is important in Meijer’s modus operandi, what really grows a product’s sales is demonstrating a good, quickly perceived price-value relationship, such as cooking instructions or instantly redeemable coupons on the right-sized package.