Meat Cutters Cook Up Incremental Sales

Discussion
Aug 13, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

It’s long been known that consumers are intimidated when it comes to preparing meals made with fresh fish. It is for this precise reason that many stores with fresh fish cases have instructed staff in proper methods of preparation and provided easy-to-prepare recipes for shoppers to follow.

Today, something similar is happening in fresh meat departments where meat cutters are offering tips to shoppers on methods of preparation. The reasons behind why meat cutters are doing something other than cutting meat include not only culinary-challenged shoppers but also increased competition from stores that only sell case-ready product. By coming to the counter and offering preparation advice, meat cutters are offering something that others are not.

A piece by The Wall Street Journal pointed to a number of grocers including Supervalu, Winn-Dixie, Publix, Southern Family Markets and others that are putting the knowledge of chefs into meat cutters’ brains to provide an added service for consumers.

The advice meat cutters offer can lead to higher rings as consumers feel more comfortable buying more expensive cuts, Jim Hertel, managing partner of Willard Bishop, told the Journal.

“If I was cooking a roast and I burned it, I could be out $20 or $25,” he said. “That’s a lot different than saying my Pop Tarts got burned.”

Discussion Questions: Are meat cutters a difference-maker in the competition between traditional supermarkets and discounters that sell only case-ready cuts? Does the solution-provider attitude in meat and seafood have applications in other parts of the supermarket?

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14 Comments on "Meat Cutters Cook Up Incremental Sales"


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Peter Milic
Guest
Peter Milic
11 years 8 months ago

Referring to meat-cutters as having the potential to be “difference makers” overstates the frequency of this form of interaction between customers and counter staff. The difference in cost of meat at a discounter vs. traditional supermarket is always there. The need for information on how to prepare a particular cut of meat is a fairly infrequent need..

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

Higher prices — higher service level requirements. Do people need constant advice on how to cook meat? Probably not anymore.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 8 months ago

Traditional supermarkets have had meat cutters available to help shoppers (providing you could catch one) with food preparation and cooking suggestions for years. Still the traditional supermarkets have been losing share. Why? 1) Price at discounters, and 2) fewer shoppers are wanting to cook extensively and thus have a spotty interest in learning more about how to best spend more productive time in the kitchen. There may be better solutions for supermarkets.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
11 years 8 months ago

Nice idea, but supermarkets have always had this advantage vs. mega marts that sell case ready meat. For chain supermarkets to really differentiate themselves with this they will not only have to better educate butchers, they’ll have to train them to impart their newfound knowledge to customers in a positive way, and market this service heavily to shoppers in a credible fashion. I’m not sure shoppers are ready to see butchers in chain supermarkets as “chefs”.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

Of course some panelists will consider this bone-head thinking as the smart money says consumers are too busy to cook and those that do are too smart to need advice. With the advent of the movie Julie and Julia, cookbooks are flying off the shelves.

My smart money is that there has never been a better time for butchers to make the difference over price. A tough steak or pork chop is never a good deal. Kudos to Jewel in Chicago and others who see value in this program.

Ron Margulis
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

There is nobody, I repeat, nobody who can cook a steak as good as a butcher. I’ve had the good fortune to eat at many of the finest steakhouses in the world, and the best steak I’ve ever had was prepared by Eddie Lake, the head of the meat department where I went through my apprenticeship. He could cook a ribeye on one of those flimsy hibachis my dad imported from Asia and it would taste better than any steak at The Palm or Smith & Wollensky. He knew the most flavorful part of each cut, how to season it properly and which style of cooking would deliver the tastiest meal. He was constantly out by the case talking with shoppers, sharing with them his insights into different cuts. I always appreciated how he taught me to breakdown subprimals and cook steaks, but it wasn’t until I started to really analyze customer service that I came to appreciate the way he marketed his department.

Ben Ball
Guest
11 years 8 months ago
My heart is definitely with the butchers here. But if the butchers in my local Jewel are representative, we are not talking about much in the way of “imparting knowledge.” Buck Buchanan was the head butcher in the Candler Meat Market. He would readily hold court with any customer in the store, and (if you could get the cigar out of his mouth long enough) would impart wisdom on everything from how to sear one of his hand cut sirloins to how to prepare breakfast sausage in a Teflon versus cast iron skillet. I wasn’t old enough or committed enough to the meat business to be trained as a butcher. But just working in the front of that store after school was enough to ensure that I would never be at a loss as to what to do with meat, fish or fowl. With a few exceptions, the current crew at Jewel seems more interested in getting their case ready pack out finished and the counters cleaned by 7 pm than they do in making… Read more »
Doug Fleener
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

You either compete on price or service and selection, so I think it is a good way to differentiate. The key though is to have enough butchers working so other customers who are waiting to be served don’t get frustrated waiting to be helped.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 8 months ago

My butcher has been doing just this for 60 years–which is why he’s still in business and can sell meats for 30% more than the supermarket across the street. If you want to know what cut to use, how to prep it and how long to cook it for the best results, he’s the guy to ask. He’s kind of like my pharmacist–but for meat!

Nonetheless, butchers need some cooking knowledge. Again, it’s a valuable customer service. No one is going to buy an expensive cut these days–and aren’t they all–if they don’t know what to do with it.

Having said that, I would also suggest that some stores also focus on training their butchers on how to cut meat. I’ve seen some atrocious examples of what not to do lately.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

Providing this service at a higher cost is a point of differentiation only if it is managed that way and actually adds value to consumers. For some consumers this is an outstanding service. Retailers need to determine whether this is a point of differentiation for their consumers, then figure out what consumers want, and decide whether they can add value to those consumers with this service at a profit.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

In England (and I suspect large chunks of the US), we are into a second generation of adults with little or no knowledge of food – where it comes from, what to do with it or even how it should taste. I agree wholeheartedly that this could be a useful (invaluable) service as adults who learn will teach good habits and appreciation of quality to their children. But I also agree that it has to be marketed properly and pro-actively. Just standing behind the counter and waiting for people to come is not enough. Those who come will already be inclined to cook. It’s the ones who don’t come who need to be encouraged.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

This is a discussion on the value of training. Retailers can, by properly training their employees, create additional value propositions for their customers which manifests into loyalty. It also elevates morale and creates a more loyal team of employees.

Aman Nanda
Guest
Aman Nanda
11 years 8 months ago

I can simply relate my own experience at a Wegmans. I was looking to eat healthy and cook some salmon and was not sure what kind to buy. And while I was standing at the counter looking obviously confused, the person behind the counter asked me about my dilemma and he proceeded to tell me the difference between the varieties available and how they needed to be cooked etc – for a whole 5 minutes. Some of us would argue that this is just good customer relations, but this is what leads to retention. I have never bought fish from another grocery store since.

The logic applies to any other purchase where the consumer is looking for some more information. In due time I will know enough about cooking fish, but I would still prefer to buy it at Wegmans.

Tony Orlando
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

There is no substitute for a great butcher who really knows how to cook. As a caterer and a meat cutter for 40 years, our little store has a big advantage over the supercenters of the world. We not only beat their brains in on meat prices, but we offer recipes and actually talk to our customers on how to prepare meats for small or large gatherings, and if they want us to cook it, our catering business gets even more profit.

Any independent should focus on simple preparation of foods for their customers. It’s amazing how a simple suggestion on how to prepare St. Louis ribs or prime rib goes a long way towards building loyalty. BUT, you must also offer value, because it takes several competitive advantages in order to keep them coming back. Go back to the old ways of treating the meat shoppers, along with great promotions, and hopefully it will be enough to build sales and profits.

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