Bringing spice to the meat department

boring… alone in a cave… intimidating… like a trip to the dentist…

What is your first reaction when you read these words? It certainly doesn’t seem like a place I am interested in visiting.  Unfortunately, for everyone involved in the supermarket meat department, these words and phrases put a giant magnifying glass on a problem we are all facing.  These words are metaphors provided by consumers during a focus group when asked how to describe how they feel when shopping the meat department at their local supermarket.

Getting a gut ache right now? If you are not, it may mean you’ve already taken too much antacid today.  This is a industry –wide problem!  Don’t shrug this one off and go on to the other 100 things you need to think about today.  Take just a minute to stop and contemplate what this means and the ramifications.

Think about it

About a decade ago the term “retailtainment” entered the collective vocabulary.  It was all the rage. Everyone was talking about how consumers wanted to be entertained when shopping and at the time it generated some new and exciting  applications that began showing up around the supermarket – things like TVs hanging from the ceiling and interactive kiosks started to appear.

Apparently the meat department didn’t get the memo.  If they had we would not have consumers in December of 2010 using words like “alone in a cave” to describe their experience at the meat department.

Bottom line: there are far too many people out there who may shop your store but not your meat department because it is all of those things mentioned above. That, my friend, is costing you money.

Enough discussion on the problem, let’s talk about the solution.

It’s all about the senses

It is springtime in the Carolinas and just opening my back sliding door and stepping out on my deck brings an array of stimulants that make me happy!  The sky is Carolina blue, I hear birds chirping, the grass is regaining it dark green color after its brown winter nap.  The trees are sporting fresh buds or little green leaves have just popped out, the flowers are opening  and splashing the landscape with brilliant colors and – wait, I just caught a whiff coming from the neighbor’s house! Ahhhhh! That smell makes me want to rush inside, grab a plate and head to their backyard.  Jim is grilling!

Are you with me? Do you feel like you are there? Do you hear the birds, see the colors and smell the steak on the grill?  Does it give you the warm fuzzies inside?  Of course it does! After a long winter, spring time is the signal that fun is arriving.

Why can’t we capture those same feelings in the meat department to make shopping for that meat we are going to put on the grill this summer more fun? Why can’t we appeal to our customer’s senses?  Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Many of you are already doing it in produce and bakery; even the cows moo when you open the door to get a gallon of milk!

When we asked our focus group participants which of the 5 senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing) are engaged in bakery and produce, most could provide examples of 4-5.  When we asked what senses were engaged at the meat department we got a different answer: None. Zip. Nadda. Nothing.  We can and we must do better.

It is time to spruce of the meat department. Four easy but critical ideas follow.

  1. Light it up! Make sure the place isn’t dim, dark and dreary. Change out the light bulbs, add some drop down spotlights for coffins and feature bunkers. Go ahead, add some ambience. It will really liven up the place!
  2. Update the décor. Take a look around. What do you see….packages and packages of raw meat.  For many consumers it all looks the same.  You sigh and tell me that is what you sell. I know! But you could work to make it more appealing.  Add some giant photos of whet-your-appetite-make-their-eyes-pop-out-of-their-head plated food photography.  Nearly all of the protein associations have great photography. Request high res files, get giant photos made and put them around the department.  It will make a difference!
  3. What did I just hear? Could it be the sound of a steak sizzling on the grill?  Man, that makes me hungry!  Go ahead, play off this!  Find a way to add some sizzling sound to your department.
  4. Follow our nose! Want to really sell some product? Then cook it!  The busiest time of day in the department is when tired, cranky customers are leaving work and making the journey through the store in an effort to put dinner on the table.  Use this to your advantage.  Put something in a slow cooker and let the aroma fill the department. Select a cut you are long on for the day and watch the packages leap out of the case and into a cart. Customers follow their nose and you can lead them right to you!

Gain more insights

Interested in learning more? Check out the results of research we conducted with Shugoll Research to gain insights into the meat department. The research, “Once Upon a Protein: The Story of the Meat Case” was shared at the Annual Meat Conference in March, 2011. Visit to see the results.  Both short- and long-term solutions are provided.   Have additional questions? Just email me!

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  1. Butch McGee says:

    Good post. As a meat specialty technician (butcher) we are a different breed of people. Our right of passage is to dress out a 900lb sow with nothing more than our hands and a Mach 3 razor. I’ll put a chaw in, roll out of bed, and start ‘processing’ animals before you whippersnappers even think about waking up. We all like our knives clean. Saws clean. Shops clean. Kill floors clean. If having a clean shop means not having a red coat Jamie Oliver character cooking up a culinary delights for customers’ olfactory glands, then so be it.

  2. Thanks for your comment Butch. It is the men (and women) in the white coats that make it all happen. I, for one, as thrilled that you are all about cleanliness. Your customers are too. Please don’t misunderstand me, this is not choosing one over the other, it is about both. First and foremost customers expect a clean meat department – otherwise they won’t be back. But their expectations don’t stop there. They want to be engaged – to have you stimulate their senses and make shopping for dinner more exciting. If you don’t, someone else that is clean and engaging will get their business.

    • Butch McGee says:

      Just giving you a hard time and I am bored at my office job currently. I was a butcher at one moment in time, but no longer do it. Somehow came across the site and felt like entertaining myself for 5 minutes with a ridiculous post. Have a good one! I think this is a cool company.
      Most sincerely,
      Butch McGee

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