After years of increasing prices in a volume-challenged marketplace, deflation is profoundly changing the meat purchase yet again, according to a study released by The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), Arlington, Va., and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), Washington, D.C.

The “Power of Meat” study, made possible by Sealed Air’s food care division, Elmwood Park, N.J., discovered that price relief is driving a greater willingness for experimentation and premium product purchases among consumers.

In its 12th year, the study demonstrates how thoughtful curation of the meat case tailored to shopper needs, trends and innovation can influence incremental sales and provide the industry with opportunities to foster high levels of satisfaction and drive spending and loyalty. For instance, the study found that selling meat as part of a total meal solution in ready-to-prepare meal kits drew consumer interest and has the potential to yield increased sales.

“It is important for food retailers to help their customers shop smarter, and no department is better positioned to do this in 2017 than the meat department,” says Rick Stein, FMI vice president of fresh foods. “The research shows how consumers clearly understand the nutritional and flavor benefits of protein and are eating more proteins in various forms – with overall volume up.”

The study emphasized how food retailers and suppliers should continue to help tell a story about the meat purchase, paying particular attention to the product’s attributes, such as ingredient and production practices. These stories also translate to in-store execution of promotions and through digital, mobile and social media promotions.

“It is clear that consumers are seeking more information and transparency about their meat and poultry products, and the industry is hearing that message,” adds Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of NAMI. “From our Glass Walls videos showing how animals are handled in our plants to the new MyMeatUp app, which includes a full guide to beef, pork, lamb and veal cuts available at retail, consumers have more resources at their fingertips to help them purchase the meat and poultry products they seek.”

In addition, value-added meat and poultry saw robust volume increases. Better communication by retailers about the grade, handling practices, prices and convenience of these products may help accelerate further growth, according to the study.

And, while 62% of consumers still choose the supermarket to make a meat and poultry purchase, alternative channels are garnering momentum. In particular, among the 24% of shoppers who switch from traditional channels, consumers increasingly choose butcher stores (77%), farmer’s markets (7%) and specialty/organic (8%). Notably, for the first time in 12 years, shoppers who have bought natural/organic (48%) exceeded those who have not (41%) – just a decade ago, that gap was 50 percentage points.