Consumer insight highlights opportunities, says Eblex

The meat industry need to address the problem of making meat easier to prepare and cook in the home, as the time taken to prepare meals continues to decline, Eblex has warned.

Richard Cullen, retail and consumer insight manager at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) told delegates at the Eblex processor conference that most meat meals take longer to cook than the 34-minute average time taken to prepare the main meal, but that there were opportunities for processors to address this problem. Enjoyment remains a key driver for meat consumption, he said, and consumers are still willing to pay extra for additional benefits such as high animal welfare, local production and more healthy items, despite health concerns seeing a greater fall-off in the double-dip recession.

He said: “There are things processors can do for your products to attract consumers, as well as an opportunity to get more money from the consumer.”

Overall, the economic situation is still proving challenging, he said, with GDP contracting by 0.7% in the second quarter of 2012 to show a third consecutive quarter of negative growth. Although the unemployment rate was down slightly, an increase of people working part-time continued to have an effect on disposable income. However, consumer spending and consumer confidence, which normally mirror each other closely, was beginning to show a big divergence.
He told delegates: “Spending has picked up, but confidence hasn’t. Thing should start to turn around and see sales going up.”

He added that as inflation grows, people trade down, leading to less year-on-year growth, and that despite a mid-recession recovery, people were trading down again. “There is concern about what’s happening, but general spending is going up, despite confidence. We might be starting to come out of recession.”

However, he said that consumer trust in supermarkets to deliver a fair price had declined, partly as a result of promotional activity.

“Consumers are more suspicious of what’s happening,” he said, pointing out that meat giveaways had been high before and at the start of the recession, but were now declining. The volume of fresh beef on promotion remained relatively static in the 12 weeks to 2 September across the cuts, but were down slightly on the same time last year. This factor, combined with tighter beef supplies, has seen sales – even of mince – starting to struggle. Meanwhile, there were big opportunities in lamb, he said, which has seen heavier promotion, particularly on roasting joints, compared to last year.

In the foodservice sector, quick-service restaurants have seen traffic steadily increasing as people have traded down from full service outlets. Pubs’ performance in the last quarter has also slipped, down 0.6% overall, with independents and small brands continuing to suffer (down 1.7% and 0.8% respectively) as they are less able to drive the traffic compared to big brands, which grew 0.8% in the year to end of June compared to the same time the previous year.

Beef has proved to be the biggest winner in foodservice, with year-on-year growth of 8.7% compare to the previous year, driven by burgers, which account for 31.5% of all foodservice occasions. Beef sandwiches also saw good growth, up 19% compared to last year.  Pigmeat servings also grew, up 5.3% (to 1,758,017 servings) and chicken, up 1.8%. Lamb and turkey fell by around 1% and 3.9% respectively. Although lamb servings in the year to end 2012 were down 16% compared to last year, the average spend when lamb is included in the order tended to be higher.