SupermarketNews – Conventional supermarkets’ meat departments now typically have at least a limited selection of antibiotic-free meat products, a category that some natural food stores offer exclusively.
Jewel-Osco stores can opt to carry antibiotic-free ground beef, bison and grass-fed meat, said Karen May, external communications manager, who noted shoppers can also special order antibiotic-free products. “We recently added both High Plains Bison and Strauss Grass Fed Beef because we noticed some increase in demand for these types of products as well as being antibiotic-free meats.”
In a study released last summer, the advocacy group Consumers Union found that 11 out of 13 big chains had antibiotic-free poultry or meat private-label products, including Ahold, Costco, Delhaize, A&P, H-E-B, Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu, Publix, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Meijer and Wal-Mart’s store brands weren’t antibiotic-free, but the chains offered other suppliers’ antibiotic-free products.
While retailers see steady shopper interest in this category, they haven’t reported booming sales. “I think it’s becoming more of an issue, it’s still not a huge issue. But I think there are more people looking at it “the antibiotic-free” than five years ago,” said Kelly Mortensen, meat director for Associated Food Stores, Salt Lake City.
Creekstone Natural Beef, an antibiotic-free and steroid-free product, has been available at Associated Food Stores’ locations for five years now, Mortensen said. “We brought the category on mainly because it performed really well. It really picked up nice, and of course it had those attributes [of no antibiotics or steroids], and I’m not saying the category has grown a lot, but it seems like there’s more interest.”
May agreed about the category’s performance. “We have seen some customer interest in antibiotic-free meat, but the demand has not been particularly high.”
On the pork side, Jarrod Sutton, assistant vice president of channel marketing for the National Pork Board, has not seen growth in antibiotic-free offerings in the FreshLook Marketing retail scanner data.
Recent research shows that shoppers may not be aware of the meat products available at their store.
In a Midan Marketing survey, 55% of shoppers didn’t know if their store had meat that was raised with hormones or antibiotics, said Danette Amstein, principal.
After hearing about antibiotics and growth hormones used in livestock, 44% of consumers surveyed didn’t change their behavior and 20% reported switching to a natural or organic pork or beef brand.
Amstein said Midan can’t be sure that other factors didn’t also convince shoppers to switch their purchasing habits.
In the Midan study, 72% of respondents said they were interested in purchasing antibiotic- and hormone-free meat. And, as previously reported by SN, 86% respondents to a Consumer Reports survey said they should be allowed to buy meat raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, and 60% said they’d be willing to pay 5 cents more a pound.
While Consumer Reports found that some prices for antibiotic-free items can be comparable to or even lower than conventional meat, the price range varied.
The National Pork Board’s Sutton said antibiotic-free meat is expensive to raise and many consumers can’t afford it.
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