The might behind the annual ‘Power of Meat’ report
The Power of Meat study, presented at the Annual Meat Conference, has become a vital benchmark for the meat industry. Compiled for the Food Marketing Institute and the North American Meat Institute, and sponsored by Sealed Air, for a dozen years it has been a deep dive into the who, what, where, when, why and how of that point in the meat supply chain where the product meets its end consumer.
The massive research project is the work of Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics LLC. Even as she was in the thick of compiling the data for the Power of Meat 2018, she took the time to explain what happens behind the curtain for Meatingplace.
Meatingplace: Who are all the parties involved in compiling the Power of Meat? That is, what other organizations or contractors or companies do you work with?
ROERINK: Every year when the report is done, we jokingly say that ‘the beast has been tamed.’ The Power of Meat has grown to become a massive undertaking with its 360° view: a consumer survey, a retailer survey and real life sales overlay by Nielsen, IRI and Market Track.
For the consumer survey, I work together with the folks at FMI and NAMI and representatives from retail, wholesale, packers/processors as well as branding, labeling, packaging and other suppliers. I believe in research that is developed by the industry for the industry. Much of the emphasis goes into developing the right questions. Once we’re all satisfied we have a story that maintains important trending while taking a peek forward, I program the survey in online survey software, test, tweak and work with a third-party sample company to eventually launch the survey.
We make sure we don’t just get 1,500 completed surveys, but 1,500 folks that accurately represent the United States’ population.
Once complete, before we do any analysis, the data is cleaned and coded. For instance, shoppers provide the actual store name and those are coded into the industry channels on the backend.
The second step is what I call the ‘he said, she said.’ Shoppers oftentimes believe they buy or eat one way, but sales trends don’t always match aspirations. I work with the folks at IRI, Nielsen and Market Track that graciously offer data overlay that shows actual sales in dollars, units as well as panel data on trips, stores, total basket size, etc. Those again are massive spreadsheets that need to be transformed into useable nuggets and insights.
Lastly, we started capturing the retailer perspective last year to allow for a better look into the future by measuring intent of program development in special attributes, customer service, meat counters, etc.
In other words, the report involves many hands to translate the massive amounts of data into the kind of presentation and insights that people have come to look for.
Meatingplace: How long does it take to complete the project from beginning to end? What are the most time-consuming parts of the process?
ROERINK: It is our goal to have data that is as fresh as possible when presented at the FMI/NAMI Annual Meat Conference. So, while it requires us to work at top speed and through the holidays, we start the process in September. We launch in November … and have everything ready for the AMC that typically takes place in February or early March. The report, the deck and the top 10 have become a vital part of the conference … with participants receiving a free copy.
The most time-consuming? I imagine most people will think the analysis. While that certainly takes a long time, I have learned over the years that bad questions in, means bad data out. So I tend to spend a lot of time on the questionnaire: making sure the angles reflect the information the industry needs to know; making sure respondents understand what we’re asking and making sure the data is as good as it can be.
The other highly time-consuming part is building the presentation deck. No one wants to see endless charts and graphs, so finding a way to visually represent the findings and providing examples can take several weeks. I like showing in-store examples of the information we cover and tend to sift through thousands of pictures I and industry partners take at retail during the year.
Meatingplace: What is the benchmark regarding statistical accuracy of the data, and what, exactly does that mean? Is this the most important measure of the accuracy of a survey, or are there other qualities to look for in a survey that are indicators of the reliability of the data or lack thereof?
ROERINK: Statistical significance is a must, which is driven by sample size. That’s why you see a sample size of 1,000+ or 1,500+ for most studies. This allows for a good representation and also for some slicing and dicing by demographics or shopping habits.
But it’s not just about the sample size. For instance, you have to make sure the sample accurately reflects the population in terms of income, region, ethnicity, etc. We set quotas to accomplish this and at times will use weights to balance out a sample. The only exception is gender. While we see more men help or take on the grocery shopping, it is still female-dominated. So setting a 50/50 quota would not make sense.
In addition to the ‘who is in the sample,’ it’s important to make sure the respondents understood the question, that questions weren’t leading, etc. So you see, the quality of the data is influenced by much more than the sample size alone.
Meatingplace: Of the insights into the meat industry that the study has shown over the years, what do you think is the area where the most change has been seen?
ROERINK: The best thing about having a 12-year trend line is that you don’t have to ask shoppers what they do differently; you can see it. Let’s take brands: After several years of increased outright preference for brands when buying fresh and processed meat and poultry, more people became brand-neutral during the recession. The minute the economy started to strengthen, the growth in outright brand preference returned.
I’d say the biggest change has been in what people buy. During the recession, we saw more people focus on price and a plateauing of natural and organic meat sales. Now, shopper focus on price has softened. Many people are willing to make room in their budgets for production attributes such as antibiotic free, hormone free, grass-fed and local, as well as convenience solutions.
Meatingplace: What one or two measures have remained the least changed over that period of time, and are there conclusions to be drawn from those more or less static measures about what is unchanging in consumers’ relationship to their meat purchases?
ROERINK: The least change is observed in where people buy. For the most part, shoppers are very loyal to their meat department, which is why it is such an important department to “get right” for retailers. Shoppers will shift back and forth between proteins and attributes in times of inflation or deflation, but many are loyal to one or two stores.
Supermarkets have dominated the meat and poultry purchase throughout the 12 years and supercenters continue to see a lot of attrition, particularly in beef. But even here we see new story lines, such as the rise of limited assortment, farmers’ markets and online sellers.
So, the important conclusion is that while meat shoppers tend to be very loyal, there is always new competition out for “your” dollar!