Beef is a popular purchase for consumers, and the benefits of that popularity for retailers extend beyond the meat department. The average retail basket including beef had more than double the sales of an average consumer's basket¹, according to a new study from Beef. It's What's For Dinner., a program of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. And, when beef is in the cart, consumers at grocers spend more and purchase more items.
According to the 2019 Fresh Meat Market Basket Analysis, beef brought in more dollars than any other retail item, at more than 2% of total sales, and is the most successful protein sold in stores, found in more than 6% of shopping carts. Bridget Wasser, NCBA's Executive Director of Meat Science and Supply Chain Outreach, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, said beef’s popularity among consumers was partially due to its versatility, calling it an "essential item" for shoppers.
"It's a staple. Beef is present in almost all cuisine types, and is purchased by all major demographic groups," Wasser said. "It can be the center of the plate, surrounded by some great sides. It can also be an ingredient in their favorite dish; consumers love beef’s great taste."
Beef had more than double the sales of a consumer's average basket, at $85.70 to $41.33 respectively, according to the data; baskets with steak generated even higher average cart sales at $92. On average, baskets including beef had a higher sales value than those including chicken or beef substitutes. A basket with chicken had an average sales value of $84.72, while baskets including beef substitutes (like plant-based burgers) had an even smaller average cart value at $81.84. In all, baskets with beef drove 44% more total sales than baskets with chicken, and more than 19 times the total sales of baskets with beef substitutes.
Consumers make more purchases on other items throughout the store when their carts include beef. On average, chicken sales made up $9.44 of the $84.72 average sales value for the average cart including chicken, while ground beef purchases totaled $9.40 of the $88.95 average sales for baskets with ground beef. Therefore, it's not that beef sales are more expensive and take up a higher percentage of cart value, but that consumers continue to spend money on additional products when beef is included.
Wasser suggested the lower average sales for non-beef items may be because they can be used in fewer ways. "Beef provides both a celebratory and an everyday experience—it's everything from casual burgers on the grill to celebratory steak dinners," she said. "Substitute products are still fairly niche and don’t have the versatility that beef has. They don’t have the range of product options that beef does."
In fact, beef's many uses can help drive sales storewide, according to Wasser. Beef can be a component to an everyday meal or the centerpiece of a special occasion, meaning retailers can benefit from cross-promoting beef with a wide range of items, including bagged salads, specialty sides and wines. Ground beef for burgers requires hamburger buns, while beef used in tacos would likely lead consumers to purchase taco shells, as well as the specific condiments to fit those types of meals. The more ways a consumer can use a product, the more likely they are to purchase a wider array of ancillary items (such as cheese, produce and beverages) to satisfy the requirements different recipes entail. The trick for retailers is to show consumers how all those needs can be fulfilled in one visit to their store, according to Wasser.
"A retailer’s store has everything (consumers) need for their next beef meal," she said. "Providing that reminder and inspiration to their shopper in the moment helps position the retailer as a complete meal solution provider."
For additional cross-promotion opportunities, Wasser encouraged retailers to consider the season in which they're selling beef and what types of meals consumers may opt to prepare at those times. In the summer, grilling is a perennial pastime, so configuring consumers' retail experience to grilling-related purchases (i.e., making condiments and accessories associated with grilling more accessible to consumers in the meat department) could spur sales.
She also encouraged retailers to equip staff to answer questions "in the moment." The versatility beef products provide means staff must be able to answer questions on a variety of topics. She suggested retailers offer meat team members complimentary Beef University training and access to other educational resources on BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com. New cutting-edge marketing tools such as the first beef virtual assistant, Chuck Knows Beef—available now at ChuckKnowsBeef.com or available as a smart-speaker "skill" through Amazon Alexa or Google Home can also help retailers and their staff answer customer questions in-the-moment or provide a valuable training tool or resource for back of house. For example, go to ChuckKnowsBeef.com and ask him about any cut of beef and he’ll tell you where it comes from on the carcass and will also suggest a variety of recipes or ways to prepare that cut of beef. You can even ask Chuck Knows Beef what he knows about meat substitutes.
"The retailer and their staff are the first line of defense," she said. "They are key to ensuring shoppers have a great experience with the meat they buy so they come back for more. That's why we've developed a variety of tools and resources to assist retailers in educating shoppers about beef cuts, recipes and cooking methods."
¹IRI Panel Data, All Outlets, 52 weeks ending 1/6/19, Market Basket Study, February 2019.