Decisions, Decisions: How Consumers Shop at the Meat Department

Decisions, Decisions: How Consumers Shop at the Meat Department

Once upon a time, there was one way to grocery shop: Go to the supermarket, shop, stand in line and go about your day. But times have changed, and the consumer’s path to purchase is no longer always that direct. Today, consumer choice is rampant and influenced by countless factors both in-store and out. Thanks to the rise of e-commerce and meal kits, which 25% of U.S. consumers have purchased in the last year, areas like the fresh meat department are having to evolve in order to meet the needs of on-the-go consumers.

But the meat category is more complicated than other departments, particularly with respect to sourcing transparency and convenience. Retailers also need to manage ongoing supply and pricing challenges as well. In 2016, consumers spent 5% less in the meat department than in the previous year, thanks in part to price deflation. As a result, total dollar sales fell 3%.

So what does this tell us about consumption? In short, it means that the path isn’t always linear. And that means reaching shoppers today requires a clear understanding of how they make their decisions in the meat department. With that foundation, you need layers of demographic details to complete the picture.

It all starts at home. Nielsen research shows that pre-store behavior is heavily influenced by cooking attitude: Consumers stick to what they know, and they tend to buy products that have similar levels of cooking difficulty as what they’re used to. That means that consumers essentially have pre-determined product sets that they’re working with every time they walk into the store or scan a web page.

So how does a shopper’s decision process for buying meat break down beyond cooking aptitude once he or she is in the store? Nielsen research shows that consumers’ meat purchase decisions fall within three priority tiers: cost, usage and value claims. The importance of each tier and attribute within it can shift as you dive deeper into specific meat types.

Understanding these in-store decisions and behaviors can produce more informed business decisions around product portfolio, more effective organization in the meat display case, and a better understanding of which attributes to emphasize in packing and marketing. Layering a deeper consumer understanding over purchase decision insights is the final step to making your meat strategies more effective overall. What outside factors—including income, location, age and race—influence them?

Since cost is a chief influencer in consumers’ meat purchase decisions and product availability varies by location, we’ll take a look at two important consumer groups defined by income and location: cosmopolitan centers and affluent suburbs.

Despite declining trips and spend, these segments have opportunity for creative growth solutions. Consumers in cosmopolitan centers make up 14% of the population, and their meat spend has been falling for the past two years. These shoppers value “free-from” characteristics, meaning they look for traits like “no antibiotics,” “no hormones,” and “organic.” They also value convenience, so meat products in cosmopolitan centers should tout health benefits along with prepared options. Consumers in affluent suburbs make up 18% of the population and spend the most on meat. Families of all sizes make up a larger than average portion of this group, so merchandising and time-saving options appeal to them. Both consumer groups want to make mealtime easy and can be drawn in with convenient cross-department promotions.

In today’s fragmented market, it’s more important than ever to have a foundational understanding of consumer decision drivers when it comes to buying their pick of protein. When you cut out the noise and bring it all together, you’ll have the right product, in the right place for the right consumer.


The insights in this article were derived from the following sources:

  • Nielsen Homescan Consumer and Shopper Panel  data: 52 weeks ended Oct. 1, 2016
  • Harris Poll® conducted online, in English, within the U.S. between Dec. 27 and Dec. 29, 2016, among 2,015 adults aged 18+ (including 474 adults who have purchased a meal kit in the past 12 months).
  • Nielsen Meat Consumer Decision Tree 2016.