KANSAS CITY – COVID has only accelerated a trend in the retail meat industry that’s been building for years: consumer desire for case-ready meats.

Case-ready, fresh sliced deli has been a growing category for Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods for several years, said Holly Lavallie, marketing director for Hormel’s Deli Solutions Group.

“We see this as a real opportunity for retailers to capitalize on the trend, even with the current pandemic, by continuing to provide convenient and flavorful options,” she said. “The deli fresh category has been growing for years, and the current COVID situation has simply accelerated the rate of change and required retailers to implement solutions faster.”

In addition, she said, consumers have adapted and are more comfortable to the new ways of buying their favorite high quality deli meats.
Hormel is tracking three key drivers of the consumer shift towards fresh sliced deli meats.

The first, Lavallie said, is convenience. People have less time and don’t want to wait in line in the deli. But they still want the same high-quality meats.

The second reason is labor-related.

“It’s hard to staff the deli area 24 hours a day,” Lavallie said. “With deli fresh, the items can be set out in the morning and shopped all day long regardless of deli staffing.

Finally, she added, fresh sliced offers retailers an easier way to service their customers through online shopping.
“Retailers save on labor and time spent on training as well handling of clearing out product that may not be selling through fast enough and spoiling.”

Hormel Deli Solutions is in a great position, Lavallie added, to leverage two of its top brands — Columbus Craft Meats and Hormel 1891 — to offer high-quality deli meats in a deli fresh option.

The company also can apply its consumer insights and category leadership knowledge to partner with retailers and help them build their own custom programs, she said.

“Hormel Deli Solutions is a leader in helping retailers add a fresh sliced program to their stores. We can provide high quality and on-trend products, brands, training, merchandising support, as well as thought leadership and analytics support to drive this exciting change in the retail deli landscape.”

Pandemic effect

Tyson Fresh Meats, a division of Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, has also seen consistently growing demand for case-ready meats, said Kevin Meyer, director of customer development for portioned protein innovations.

Tyson is currently building a state-of-the-art case-ready plant that will become operational in the fall of 2021 to meet current and future demand.

“This year in particular, our retail partners have seen a large increase in consumer demand for case ready,” Meyer said. “On the retail side, case-ready helps solve for many of the issues retailers are facing today. Case ready products require less labor to keep the meat case stocked, while improving stock positions, reducing shrink and allowing the retailer to maintain if not improve current margins.”

Retail demand at grocery stores is up significantly due to the pandemic, he added. Retailers have turned to case-ready to supply a portion of their meat case and to subsidize what they can produce in the back room.

“We recommend that retailers look at the bottom line when comparing case-ready to store processing,” Meyer said. “Increased in-stocks lead to increased sales, even if gross margins go down. We’ve seen up to 20-30% lifts in total sales due to increased in-stocks and overall consistent quality.”

Value added grind blends and thin sliced items are in high demand by consumers, he added. Case ready innovation and production capabilities allows for retailers to get these items at lower cost and better quality than what can be done in back of house operations.

Case-ready helps solve for more than labor, food safety, shelf life, and out of stocks, Meyer said. It also provides for greater consistency in products and allows for cost-effective production on items that are very labor intensive, such as thin sliced meats. Innovation is also being driven by case ready in areas like seasoned and marinated, meal kit solutions, service case items, and other unique offerings in the value- added space, he added.

In September, Tyson launched its Open Prairie Natural Beef and Pork case ready program. The Never Ever line offers the ability to trace back to the animal’s place of birth through Tyson’s Trusted Path program, Meyer said.

Case-ready meat products offer retail shoppers convenience and quality that are trending in the self-service meat case versus options available at many full-service fresh meat counters, said Kent Harrison, vice president of premium programs and market for Tyson Fresh Meats.

“Consumers are looking for changes in how meat is packaged and paying close attention to the meat they buy in the store,” he said.

The new product line also allows retailers to minimize labor costs with exact-weight products that require no cutting, weighing or packaging at the store level in addition to extended shelf life, reduced shrink and leakproof packaging.

“Luckily for fresh meat retailers, the packaging innovations that consumers seek may also help alleviate two of their long-term issues: labor and shrink,” Harrison said. “We’re excited to offer our retail customers a branded case-ready product that their shoppers can feel good about buying, knowing they are feeding their families a wholesome protein from responsibly raised animals.”