Perception is a powerful force – powerful enough to influence retail grocers and protein processors to slow their adoption of flexible next-generation vacuum packaging formats. After all, it seems like a virtual lock that companies would rush to utilize flexible packaging technology with the potential to save millions of dollars by reducing unsold, spoiled and wasted product. Yet more than 50 years after Sealed Air’s Cryovac® food packaging brand first introduced the materials, systems and processes that made vacuum packaging viable for proteins, fresh red meat in the US continues to be packaged in less advanced formats, primarily because of long-held perceptions of how shoppers view vacuum packaged beef.
Recent research funded jointly by the Beef Checkoff and Sealed Air’s Cryovac® food packaging brand shows these perceptions might not reflect the attitudes of today’s consumer. The findings indicate an opportunity for marketing and communications that could significantly impact the flexible packaging industry, opening the door for wider adoption of vacuum packaging solutions that benefit meat processors, grocery retailers and consumers.
Processors and retailers understand the benefits of vacuum packaging for meat, poultry and seafood. The packaging format preserves freshness and extends shelf life. Vacuum packaging also offers greater performance because the tight-to-the-product seal forms a “second skin” that prevents freezer burn much more effectively than other formats. Benefits such as these enable better inventory control, reduced materials and product waste (known as “shrink” in the food retail industry, in part for the deleterious impact on profit margins) and greater merchandising opportunities.
Consumers who purchase vacuum packaged red meat benefit as well. Vacuum packaged meat is typically fresher because it is exposed to less oxygen.
Consumers gain from the versatility of vacuum packaging, as well. Longer refrigerated shelf life means grocery buyers can stock up on sale items without having to use the entire product within a short time frame. Freezability provides the flexibility for consumers to get even longer shelf life should plans change and preparation/cooking get postponed.
So why don’t we see more vacuum packaging in the fresh meat case? It all comes back to perception. Particularly among grocers, the perception long has been that consumers aren’t ready to embrace vacuum packaged fresh red meat. However, the Beef Checkoff/Sealed Air third-party research shows this could be changed with a little effort to communicate more clearly with today’s consumer.
Nearly eight out of 10 consumers surveyed expressed familiarity with vacuum packaged beef. However, almost half of consumer respondents were either not very familiar or not familiar at all with vacuum packaging features and benefits. Would it make a difference if consumers have access to education and messages regarding how they can benefit from vacuum packaging? The research indicates very much so.
When consumers received education about vacuum packaging’s features and benefits, their purchase intent increased dramatically. After exposure to information, definite purchase intent for vacuum packaged beef among those participating in the study was nearly 70 percent. The study found that educated consumers indicated willingness to pay more for vacuum packaged products and considered it important for their preferred store to stock such items, a significant finding for retail grocers who depend on meat department sales for a large percentage of store profits.
Leading the Vacuum Packaging Conversation
The research shows consumers are open to the idea of buying beef in vacuum packaging if they are informed about the format. Providing messaging that emphasizes the benefits of vacuum packaging is imperative if the industry is to realize the financial and sustainability benefits this flexible format can deliver.
This is where packaging manufacturers can join forces with retailers and processors to usher in positive change. That’s why Sealed Air’s Cryovac® brand recently began an effort to get the word out on the opportunities to educate consumers and facilitate further adoption of vacuum packaging technologies. By working together, industry leaders can reach an audience more willing than ever to explore better alternatives to the packaging traditionally found in the meat case.
Over the next several months, Sealed Air’s Food Care experts will engage retail grocers and processors in conversations that demonstrate the impact of education on consumer perception and purchasing intent. We’ll share the messages the research showed to be most effective in communicating the benefits of this highly valuable flexible packaging innovation. It is our hope that these conversations open eyes to opportunities for an industry to take advantage of flexible packaging technology long available, and too long overlooked.
For more information around the Beef Checkoff and Cryovac® food packaging brand’s vacuum packaging consumer research, and to view a complete summary, visit http://bit.ly/17KcFJo.
Jim Mize is the vice president, global sector – packaging solutions for Sealed Air’s Cryovac® food packaging brand. Mize has held various roles within the Cryovac® food packaging brand’s marketing division for 33 years. Mize also serves as a Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) Board Member.
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