Meat is the Bad Guy…Again

Even before the official report on whether red meat would be classified as a carcinogen was released by the IARC, I was approached by a fellow mom on the soccer field this weekend.   Knowing that I work in the meat industry, she hit me with, “So I hear meat causes cancer!”

And so it begins… again.  According to Meatingplace, “The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has concluded that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans and that red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans.”

It doesn’t take long for the media to shorten that finding into the kind of inflammatory headline I heard on the soccer sideline.   No matter that the IARC reviewed a total of 940 agents for their potential to cause cancer:  the only one getting any attention is red meat.  (Other potential cancer-causing agents, according to the IARC’s report, include air and sun – really.)

Meat, as usual, continues to be an easy target. So whether you’re a packer, processor, retailer or allied industry supplier, you’re likely to face questions about these findings like I have.  This is a prime opportunity to review the scientific data in our arsenal that helps promote red meat’s excellent nutritional value.

The industry response thus far has been swift and smart, with both NAMI and NCBA weighing in with comments that give much-needed perspective on and context to the rulings.  A Q&A document presented by the IARC that delves deeper into the report also notes that their cancer-causing classifications don’t assess the level of risk, a critical point in the discussion that is often lost in the media frenzy.

To help you fight the provocative headlines closer to home, we’ve pulled together a few resources you can review to educate yourself, your customers, your consumers, and maybe even the woman sitting next to you at your kid’s soccer game.

Risk Bites Video: What does “Probably Cause Cancer” actually mean?

Meatingplace:  IARC issues carcinogen ratings on processed, red meat

Meatingplace:  Parsing the IARC ruling on meat and cancer; it’s complicated

Meatingplace Issues Story:  The Next Cut

Meat Shopping With Midan – Friends and Family Edition

At Midan, we live, breathe and think about meat – all the time. In an effort to better understand how different Millennials purchase meat, I interviewed my friend, Cathy Lee, for this edition of Meat Shopping with Midan. Cathy is a former urbanite turned Millennial Mom, now living in the suburbs of Chicago. She works part-time as an occupational therapist and spends the rest of her time trying to get dinner on the table while chasing her toddler around.

 

Caroline and Cathy

 

Midan Marketing (MM):  Tell me how you typically shop for groceries in a given week.

Cathy Lee (CL):  I usually go to the grocery store three to four times a week, and the place I go depends on what is closest or what I need.

 

MM:      Wow, seems like you’re at the store pretty frequently.

CL:          I used to be a once-a-week grocery shopper in my single years until I met my husband, who liked going to the grocery store more frequently. When we first started dating, he pointed out how much food I would waste when shopping once a week, mostly because I would end up going out to eat a few times mid-week, and then have to throw out what I didn’t eat. Now I go a few times a week based on what I have planned a day or two out – it’s fresher, and we end up eating everything we buy.

 

MM:      Do you do all of your grocery shopping in one store? Or do you go to different stores for different items?

CL:          When we lived in the city, Mariano’s was my go-to store for everything. Now that we live in the suburbs, we have three grocery stores within a five-mile radius (Jewel, Heinen’s and a brand new Mariano’s). It really depends on the day, where I am and what I need. But I go to all three.

 

MM:      So then where do you shop for meat products? And why?

CL:          For meat products, I mostly go to Costco or Jewel. I really prefer to go to Mariano’s for grocery shopping overall, but it’s kind of far away. Jewel has really great sales on meat, so I can buy in bulk and then freeze it for later use. Same with Costco – I love that their meat comes in packages I can put in the freezer as soon as I get home.  Meat from the regular grocery store you have to use right away. Heinen’s has higher quality meats, but is very expensive and has a limited selection!

 

MM:      What cuts of meat do you typically purchase?

CL:          My husband is better at preparing red meat, so he’ll make a lot of ribs (he has a great Chinese rib recipe!), steaks in the cast iron skillet and pork chops. I’m not good at preparing red meat, so I buy a lot of thinner steaks for stir fry and chicken breasts. I do, however, love eating red meat in restaurants.

I also always have some kind of ground beef in the house. I really like it with pasta sauce. There’s one particular brand of ground beef I buy that is perfect. It’s organic, has the perfect amount in a package, tastes great, and is a good price. I buy them in bulk and put them in the freezer. I used to buy ground beef from the regular grocery store, but now I stick to this kind.

 

MM:      Sounds great. Do you know which brand it is?

CL:          No idea, but let me check my freezer… It’s Kirkland Signature Organic Ground Beef. They sell them in these perfect little square packages.

 

CL:          By the way, you know what would be really helpful?  If grocery stores told me which cut of meat is good for what type of dish.  Chicken breast is super easy. But with red meat, what is the difference between a chuck and stew meat? Is one better than the other? Does one have more fat than the other? I have no idea what the difference is or what to do with them, so I just don’t buy it. My husband would know the difference, but he doesn’t do the shopping.

 

MM:      Can you tell me how your meat shopping has changed over the years (from urban dweller to suburbanista)?

CL:          I can tell you that before our daughter was born, we (ok, mostly he) used to make a lot of fun meals. Like a rack of lamb or boeuf bourguignon. Now that we have a toddler, it’s mostly stir-fry because it’s easy. I can make a whole meal in one pot (less to clean, too), and you can stretch it out to have multiple meals. It’s pretty easy to mix the meat with vegetables and starch for a quick meal.

 

MM:      Lastly, where do you get your meal ideas from?

CL:          Mostly Pinterest. Or that Better Home and Gardens red and white checkered cookbook everyone gets when they get married. But it’s mostly from the Internet.

7 Things to Consider for 2016 Planning

It’s that time of year again:  college football season!  And while I am all about watching my beloved K-State Wildcats, this season also signals a key period for meat industry professionals:  planning time.  That means careful analysis of historical sales data along with a watchful eye on emerging consumer trends.  To help you think about where the industry is headed as you plan for 2016, we’ve put together seven tips that address the trends we think will have greatest impact on the coming year:

  1. Promote meat as the ultimate protein: Hello meat leaders, we need to be shouting this from the rooftops, on all packaging and POS and in every B2C ad!  Until we make a concerted effort to spell this message out to consumers, those pesky center-of-the store items boasting added protein will continue to steal our thunder. 2016 has to be the year when consumers can’t miss the message that meat is the best source for protein.  Learn more.
  1. Sell meat as an ingredient: While we in the industry like to think that thick steaks or chops still rule the center of the plate, today’s consumers think differently.  We have entered a new era where consumers are choosing cuts that can be mixed with other ingredients for convenience, flavor and budget reasons.  If you want to reach consumers where they are right now, provide meat in more ingredient-friendly ways.  Learn more.
  1. Focus on what your brand does best: Branded meat must fill a niche.  If your brand is trying to be everything to everyone, you dilute your message and end up with mediocre results.  Identify your target and put a laser focus on them.  It‘s okay to say “no” to a potential customer that wants you to change something about your brand.  In 2016, keep your brand messaging focused, engage your customers and consumers who fit your target and don’t detour.

2016 blog photo

  1. Explain what you do and why: Lately, it seems like everything we do in production agriculture is called into question. To counteract this, the meat industry must be transparent.  Consumers want the opportunity to understand why you do you what you do.  For years, we haven’t taken the time to explain our practices and by not doing so, we appear guilty of hiding something from the public.  If you want to silence our very-vocal critics, make 2016 the year that your back story is prominently featured on your website and promoted on your social media channels.
  1. Reconsider your packaging: The Boomers have fewer people to feed each night and the Millennials rarely sit down at the table.  This creates a conundrum with our conventional packaging.  We need case-ready single portion steaks and chops to meet the needs of both groups. Demographics don’t lie:  the make-up of our population is changing, and your packaging must change to reflect this. Take a hard look at your packaging in 2016 and make it more consumer-friendly.
  1. Give consumers the convenience they crave: Boomers are busy filling their new-found free time outside the kitchen and most Millennials don’t know how to cook if it doesn’t go into the microwave.  We have to make the end goal of a great-tasting meal easier.  As your plan for 2016, include R&D dollars to find more value-added options to meet this consumer need.
  1. Explore your export potential: If you are not getting serious about the export potential for your branded meat programs, you are missing the boat (yep, pun intended here).  The global middle class is growing by leaps and bounds, with most of the growth taking place in Asia.  With discretionary spending comes the desire for premium offerings.  In 2016, create opportunities for your branded programs outside the U.S. by telling your story and engaging these quality-hungry consumers.

Agree? Disagree?  Leave me a comment or email me your thoughts.  I always enjoy hearing from you!

I hope your planning season is wrapped up well ahead of the college football bowl games.  I plan to be planted on the couch, wearing purple and cheering on my Wildcats!

UPDATE:  2017 Planning Blog now available

Meat is Mixing Things Up

“Meat and potatoes.”

What do you think of when you read that? It used to mean dinner: a big plate of red meat with mashed potatoes beside it and gravy poured all over it. Yummm!  In today’s world the saying has taken on a slightly different meaning.  It seems to be more about being “down-to-earth” or fundamentally basic, e.g. “He’s such a ‘meat and potatoes’ kind of guy.”

Dinner is no longer what comes to mind when people hear that phrase, and Midan recently uncovered one of the key reasons why.

Through our Protein and the Plate research (conducted jointly with Meatingplace and sponsored by Yerecic Label), we learned that up until 2014, annual eatings per capita where meat was at the center of the plate covered around 45 and annual eatings per capita where meat was an ingredient hung out at around 43 eatings. In 2014, these numbers switched places. For the first time, the long-standing practice of a juicy hunk of meat owning the center of the plate and anchoring the meal was replaced with that meat being cut up – chunked, diced, sliced or ground – and combined with other ingredients before being served up on dinner plates.

This is HUGE! See for yourself.

Although we in the meat industry pride ourselves on selling big hunks of meat to consumers, we must understand that while our target audience may still buy those hunks, there has been a seismic shift in meat usage. This comes as a result of increased beef prices and the unfortunate but common perception that preparing meat can be difficult and time-consuming. For many consumers, the answer to these challenges has been to cut back on the amount being purchased and serve it in a taco shell with lettuce and salsa. Boom!  Easy, quick and more affordable.

In addition to tacos, other popular ways consumers have incorporated meat as an ingredient are in pasta, soups/stews, burgers/sandwiches, burritos, casseroles,  stir fry…and the list goes on and on…

So rather than pushing consumers back to the days of rolling up sleeves and pulling a hefty roast out of the oven (because, quite frankly, they don’t want to), the meat industry must embrace this shift. Here are four things we need to do:

  1. Innovative Products

Go beyond stew meat and prepared kabobs and think of new products that can be used as ingredients. Look at how consumers are using different cuts of meat and make them recipe-ready. Convenience is key, so find ways to save time for the meal preparer.

  1. Innovative Packaging

Explore new ways to package fresh meat for multiple cooking methods, whether for the grill, slow cooker, stovetop, etc. and figure out how to cut whole muscle into smaller cuts for center of the plate and ingredient use. We have got to offer individual and smaller portions because that is what consumers want.

  1. Different Merchandising

It’s time to ramp up the integration of education into promotion. It’s time to connect the dots for the customers shopping at the meat case by providing meat in the most common weights needed for recipes and in the form those recipes call for. It is time to push the departmental barriers of merchandising aside and truly cross-merchandise with products that are likely to be used in meat -as-an-ingredient meals:  noodles for casseroles, lettuce for salads, tortilla shells for tacos.

  1. Broad Messaging

The days of telling the meat story just at the meat case are over. We have to collectively work to inform/educate consumers on the value of meat in their diets before they walk in the store. Meat companies have to be social! So get active on the social sphere and target your key customers where they are. It always comes back to catering to the consumer!!

 If we want to keep fresh meat on the plate, the meat industry must embrace the new meaning of “meat and potatoes” and provide consumers with the fundamentally basic options they are seeking at the meat case.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – please share your comments below!

When Millennials Move On: Gen X at the Grocery Store

It’s okay to admit it – you might be a little tired of hearing about Millennials.  I know I am.  It seems that every article I’ve read lately is spouting stats about the buying habits of this up-and-coming generation.

What I am more interested in, however, is what are companies doing to reach the generation that raised these youngsters who are just now coming of age and leaving the house?

I am talking about Generation X, those of us sandwiched squarely between the Millennials and the Baby Boomers.  As a card-carrying member of Gen X (those born between 1961 and 1981), I am wondering why we aren’t getting more attention.

There are certainly plenty of us out there; the Census Bureau projects that the Gen X population will peak at 65.8 million in 2018.1

Aside from our sheer number and associated buying power, it would be wise for retailers and packers to think about Gen X as the flip side of the Millennial equation:  as a result of Millennials growing up and moving on, older Gen Xers  are experiencing major life changes that impact how we shop for and prepare meat.

Although I am a brand-new empty nester (I just dropped my daughter off at college last week – sniff, sniff), I can already tell that grocery shopping is going to be a whole new ball game.  And I am ready to embrace it!

When my children were home, I made it a priority to put a decent meal on the table every night.  Protein figured pretty prominently in my dinner lineup:  steaks, roasts, ground beef, chicken, and pork tenderloins.  I bought lots of family packs and was a frequent freezer.

Now that the kids are gone, I don’t feel that obligation to be “Super Mom” every night.  The evening meal, thankfully, has become a much more casual affair.  I text my husband in the afternoon and confirm he’ll be home for dinner, and I pop in the grocery store.  The cart has been replaced with a handled basket, and I am now picking up meat packages with a pair of steaks to throw on the grill that night, versus mega packs for multiple meals throughout the week.  I was really excited the other day when my local grocery store had smaller rotisserie chickens in little bags alongside the standard-size birds in the plastic containers — perfect for just the two of us.  (Our dog was disappointed there weren’t any leftovers.)

My thinking is this:  since I don’t have to cook anymore (my husband is perfectly okay eating cereal in front of ESPN), when I do cook, it needs to be fast and fresh.  Since there are many nights we don’t even know if we’ll be home for dinner (we might go to the gym or catch a movie on the spur of the moment), I need protein  options that are convenient for that game-time decision, like pre-marinated pork tenderloins and grill-ready steaks.  Lots of older Gen Xers like me are experiencing new-found freedom from the kitchen, and the retailers that offer fresh, flavorful meat choices that fit our on-the-go lifestyle are much more likely to get our business.  So while Millennials might be getting lots of press lately, smart grocers and processors will be thinking about how to lure millions of suddenly-liberated Gen Xers to the meat case.

As for me, this empty nester thing is turning out to be not so bad.  Who says Millennials get to have all the fun?

 

1http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/01/16/this-year-millennials-will-overtake-baby-boomers/

Bending Gender Roles at the Grill

Yes, I like pink, and I wear a lot of jingly bracelets. I love every show Shonda Rhimes has created and own more bottles of nail polish than I am proud of. I totally embrace that I am a girl who enjoys fabric shopping and trying new casseroles. While all of this is true, I also grew up playing competitive sports, drove dump trucks one summer in college and should buy stock in Anheuser-Busch. I would in no way consider myself a tomboy, but I am not afraid of getting my hands dirty.

So in the world of “anything you can do, I can do better,” why is it that to “man the grill” is so gender specific (and annoying)?

Jacob Brogan discusses the gender roles associated with grilling in his article Grillax, Bro” and I could not help but question a few points he presents. While I do agree that grilling appears to be a male-dominated sport, I do not view it as a “societal trap” where, if sucked in, men are somehow waving the white flag to gender stereotypes. Instead, I look at it is a shared interest. If I wanted to be the Grill Master in our home, then I would learn how to do so.  I just have had no desire to dethrone my husband of that title, and am more than content being the Sultan of Salad. After reading the article, however, I was moved to create a social experiment of sorts. What if my husband and I switched roles in the realm of meal prep? I could still wear my ballet flats and he could keep his work boots, but the tongs would be swapped – salad tongs for Robert, grilling tongs for me.

But first, let me take a grillfie.

new

First of all – silly me for thinking Robert would choose to prepare a salad. His side dish of choice: a squash and tomato casserole filled with cheese and bacon. I went with a fairly simple olive oil/vinegar ribeye marinade I found on Pinterest.  After we planned our meal, I made a list, because that’s what I do and he said “Well, I think I’ll just wing it!” So off we went to the grocery store, and the rest was delicious, gender-role-shattering history.

image9

While I had never even touched our grill, I was not new to cooking or preparing meat. I love trying new marinades and smashing chicken with my husband’s hammer to make stuffed chicken (perhaps I didn’t do that right), so I was excited about tackling the whole process. I felt fairly comfortable behind the grill, and had only one terrifying moment when I thought our patio would face a fiery end.  Robert fared equally well, jamming through casserole prep while listening to The Allman Brothers Band – air guitar in one hand, wooden spoon in the other.

Although I do feel more comfortable in the indoor, stovetop and preheated oven arena of cooking, I did enjoy my time behind the piping grates and would definitely do it again.

So what does our little experiment say about gender stereotypes and grilling?  Robert learned to grill by watching his dad and picking up tricks of the trade.  It’s what he’s comfortable with and good at.  But just because men have manned the grill since cavemen first rubbed two sticks together doesn’t mean there isn’t room by the fire for the females, especially millennial females like me.  We’re more likely to make grilling social (see my food pix on Instagram!), turn to our phone or tablet for recipe ideas (Pinterest is my go-to) and not be afraid to shake up age-old myths that only men are good at grilling.

Here’s to girl power at the grill!

Meat Shopping with Midan – Newlywed Edition

The lingering citrus flavor of Belizean ceviche had faded, and the last piece of red velvet wedding cake had been savored. While deciding where to put the recently-unwrapped waffle maker, a harsh reality began to sink in. I realized a bag of steamed vegetables for dinner, while perfect for a girl on a wedding diet, would not satisfy my husband, who still eats like the football player he once was. The carefree college meals of fro-yo and popcorn were long gone and housewifery was ahead of me.

I decided the best way to tackle this transition was with meal planning.

I have always enjoyed cooking and trying new recipes – I could flip through cookbooks for hours; however, this enjoyable hobby is now confined to a time frame bound by working hours and attempting to eat at a reasonable time. Making a plan not only provides peace of mind, but in doing so we are able to monitor our spending and our calorie intake – our two main priorities when shopping (I’m not so sure if the hubs cares as much about the latter as he does the former).

When I am feeling especially organized, I attempt to plan our meals for the entire week, but it usually works out that I plaWedding Cake Photon for two days, maybe three, at a time. Sure, this may seem like an excuse to peruse around Pinterest or revisit the flagged pages so dearly constructed by sweet friends Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis, but hey — it’s a planning period! So on I go, pinning and dog-earing, pinning and dog-earing until I have decided on two nights worth of food. I try to find a happy medium between the hearty, meat-heavy meals that Robert enjoys, and light, health-conscious meals for myself. After I have found what I’m looking for, I grab a pen and two notecards – time to make the list.

First, I list the boring stuff – laundry detergent, toothpaste, trash bags, etc., followed by the ingredients found in each of my chosen recipes. After everything is scribbled on the first notecard, it is time for the second – the final draft, the hard copy, the be-all end-all.  I organize my list from produce to ice-cream dairy, picturing exactly where each item can be found in the store. This way I can easily move from the right part of the store to the left, getting in and out of there as quickly as possible.

Like getting married or moving to a new town, it is important to find your groove when meal planning and grocery shopping. My first few trips to the grocery store as a Mrs. trying to create grown-up, well-rounded meals, I felt like I should grab the “Customer in Training” child’s cart – “make way for the novice shopper everyone, I have no clue what I’m doing.”  One time in particular I was shopping for flank steak. I went on to get everything else on my list before returning to the meat case (this was the first time I broke my left to right rule) because I wanted to go when no one else was around. I wanted to take my time reading each label, familiarizing myself with what was there. Over time, and after many many trips to the grocery store, I have now become more comfortable and feel like I earned the right to use the grown-up cart.

After maCustomer in Training Cartny meals being eaten at 10 pm or last minute trips to the Mexican restaurant, we are finally developing our routine.  Now that the warmer weather has  settled in, we have started grilling (almost every night). So unless it is a one dish meal, we will both venture to the fridge at the end of the workday – I pull out ingredients for a fun side dish and he pulls out the pork chops, grabs some tongs,  and heads to the patio. Minutes later we have a healthy, summery, meat-focused and newlywed-approved meal.

I have been raised giving and receiving food as a token of love, and as an adult I have chosen to incorporate this into the planning process as well by thoughtfully choosing each meal. My grandmother’s pound cakes complete birthdays all over the county, and my mom’s Chipped Beef Dip always puts a smile on dad’s face. I have not found my specialty yet, but by fine-tuning the grocery shopping experience so that it is enjoyable rather than dreaded, I am able to put love into every meal I create, well beyond the honeymoon phase.

The “Secret” is Out! How to Score Big in the Social Space

Remember the scene from the 1996 classic film, Space Jam, when Michael Jordan hands his pals on the Tune Squad the “Secret Stuff?”  Along with some help from Bugs Bunny, MJ was able to pull a fast one on his teammates. He was able to convince them that his magic elixir (water) could help them defeat the evil MonStars. Lucky for him, it worked!

Where you going with this, you might ask? Well…unlike the contents of Michael Jordan’s water bottle, there really is “secret stuff” that can help lead your team to a successful social strategy.

What is this “secret?” It lies in your mindset. Unlike in a fictitious, animated basketball game where winning or losing is the only thing that matters, in the social game, capturing key learning’s and listening to your audience is the secret that will eventually lead to success.

That’s right, in order to be successful you have to take a step back and realize the importance of experimentation, testing and most importantly, listening.

Take, for instance, our work with Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., and their Star Ranch Angus® beef brand. Throughout 2014, we were tasked with increasing engagement across all of Star Ranch Angus beef’s digital platforms, with a particular focus on their Facebook page.

Our first tactic was to re-think the brand’s current approach to strategy. Instead of “doing” social media, we positioned the brand to “become” social by developing and experimenting with fun, relevant content, geared toward engaging the audience. We paid close attention to metrics, gauging the type of content that sparked reactions. We then focused on those themes to make sure we were giving our audience the content they wanted to see.  Along with testing options in our targeted advertising, we implemented a giveaway campaign that served as the primary traffic driver on the brand’s page. The campaign helped establish a dedicated following that we now refer to as “our community.”

Following the shift in strategy, we saw significant increases not only in engagement, but in following as well. The success of the Facebook page also contributed to increases in web visits and to the addition of another social platform for the brand, Pinterest.

So, when thinking about the next step in your social adventure, keep in mind that, even though you don’t have six championship rings or a team of misfit cartoon characters, you have everything you need to be successful. Take the time to experiment, test and listen, and you’ll be on your way to becoming the “Michael Jordan” of the social space.

To see more of our work with Star Ranch Angus beef, check out this case study chronicling our digital efforts.

Mining Targets for Creative Insights Pays Off

Basic marketing tells us that in order for someone to pay attention to a message, it has to be relevant to them. So how do you make your messages relevant? You get to know your target. You can scream “buy me, buy me” all you want, but when people are exposed to tons of ads a day, you won’t break through unless you strike a nerve with your intended audience.

Here at Midan, in order to develop communications for our clients that are relevant and attention- grabbing, we get to know the needs and wants of the target. We conduct primary research or review secondary research in order to understand how the product or service fits in the target’s life. To me, there is no better way get to know your target than to talk with them face to face. Even if it’s only five minutes in a grocery store, you can learn about who they are as people and what the product means to them. I discovered this firsthand when I conducted consumer intercepts for various clients’ meat brands.

When getting to know a target, the most important question I try to answer is, “What problem does my product or service solve for the target beyond a simple functional benefit?” Great creative thought starters that lead to a compelling message usually lie beyond the functional benefit. If you don’t uncover those unexpected insights that connect the target with the product, often times the creative team is not set up for success. If the creative team doesn’t have those connections, their message will be too broad and won’t directly speak to the target.

A great example of this concept happened when we developed a promotion for Tyson’s Chairman’s Reserve® Premium Meats brand. We conducted in-store interviews and discovered that our core meat-loving target would drive pretty far out of their way to go to a store they knew had better meat. They weren’t willing to settle for what was convenient. They loved higher quality meat and made getting it a priority. This insight led our creative team to the “Never Settle” campaign, which reminded consumers that they shouldn’t ever settle when it comes to the premium beef and pork they are putting on their table.

Digging a little deeper and really connecting with our target audience uncovered a way for us to develop strong creative with spot-on messaging. So even if you think you already know your target, take the time to excavate beyond the surface. You are likely to expose the kind of insights that can lead to a creative gold mine.

Loyalty Has its Rewards

It’s spring break and I find myself sitting in a hotel room overlooking Times Square. This was not the original plan. My family and I had intended to be on the farm in Kansas. But other family duties called. My husband’s 81- year-old uncle — sharp as a tack mentally with an aching, aging body — has decided to make the move from his apartment into assisted living. It’s a move we’re all pleased with, because we’ll worry just a little less about him when he is no longer living alone.

Exhausted from packing and purging all day, I experience the gluttony of sensory overload below me: digital billboards bombarding hundreds of brand messages in a rapid-fire cadence. Only those that are overly large, clever or obnoxious seem to break through the clutter– a good reminder for the business I am in.

Another reminder is where I am staying and how it came about. I am at the Marriott Marquis, a very nice hotel in Times Square that’s crazy expensive by this Kansas farm girl’s standards, unless you have a ridiculous amount of reward points saved up and it is suddenly FREE with all the upgrades!  “Thank you for your loyalty, Ms. Amstein!” the desk clerk said cheerfully when I checked in with my family.

So what the heck does my experience have to do with meat?  Everything. I am loyal to a certain hotel brand because they reward me with freebies and make me feel just a little bit above average… like I might be sort of special. I study the advertising binge of Times Square, looking for my favorite brands, because I know that any brand with any clout is bound to be emblazoned there. I am loyal to certain restaurants when I travel because I know I can count on them to reward me with great-tasting food. For example, when I am in the Theater District of NYC, I always eat at Bistecca Fiorentina, because their Tuscan T-bone is to die for. I tell anyone and everyone coming to the city about it so they’ll go there too.

Loyalty. It can have a HUGE payout for brands.

What are you doing to create loyalty for your brand? As I see it, packer/processors have three “customers” for which to create loyalty:

Customer #1: Your Sales Force

When your sales force is juggling a million balls a day to keep your business moving, it’s critical to find ways to keep all brands front and center with your team. If you aren’t talking up your brands, providing sales support and creating excitement about your products, how can you expect your team to sell the full portfolio to their customers?  Explore ways to regularly connect your team to your brands to generate loyalty internally.

Customer #2: Your Customers — Retailers and Foodservice Operators, the Gate Keepers to Consumers

When things are hectic, sales team members tend to default to talking to customers about their favorite brands or the newest brands, rather than taking the time to review a customer’s current portfolio to uncover new opportunities. By identifying branded opportunities for your customer that may address a specific weakness in their line up, you can help your customer become loyal to your brands. Filling a need fosters loyalty.

Customer #3: Consumers — those who ultimately Purchase, Prepare and Eat your Branded Items

Consumers are blasted with messages from a variety of brands all day long, and while it might not be as bad as Times Square, it can be overwhelming. Creating messaging that cuts through the clutter and helps the consumer identify with your brand not just once but every time they come in contact with it is the first step in building a relationship. Then, when you couple product attributes that the consumer is seeking with an eating experience that meets expectations, loyalty can begin to take root.

If you are not doing something to create loyalty with all three of these customers, take a hard look at your brand. My guess would be that your brand’s growth may just be stagnant. If this is the case for a brand or two in your portfolio, take a step back and think about how to reward the very best of each of these types of customers, give them a little something extra, and make them feel special.

Check out how we helped our clients cut through the clutter to create loyalty.

And the next time you’re in New York, be sure to consider a stay at the Marquis and the steak at Fiorentinas on West 46th!

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