It’s official: we’re going Continental. In a flat cooked meats market, Continental meat products such as chorizo are booming, while more traditional sandwich and salad fillers are increasingly struggling to find favour with British shoppers.

Value sales of Continental meats have risen by 6.1% to £208m over the past 12 months, with volumes up by 5.9%, far outperforming the wider cooked meats market, which increased by just 0.7% year-on-year, to £2.1bn, and by 1.7% in volume [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 17 February 2013].

Of particular concern is cooked poultry: sales have nosedived, with the cooked turkey market shrinking by 20% in volume and 9.4% in value over the past year, while cooked chicken sales are down 4.2% in volume and 4% in value. Category giant ham - which accounts for 55.4% of the category by value and 56.6% by volume - has suffered from value dilution, with a 2.9% volume increase resulting in modest 1.4% value growth. It’s a disappointing performance, given the host of branded NPD in 2012, and the fact that more consumers are making their own packed lunches, creating a perfect opportunity to increase sales.

“Where you used to get eight or six slices per pack, now it’s four to hit a price point”

Richard Cullen, AHDB

So why are Continental meats doing a better job of taking advantage of this opportunity, and what can chicken, turkey and ham do to fight back?

The growth of Continental sliced meats is largely down to the popularity of chorizo, according to Sainsbury’s cooked meats buyer Rebecca Wicks. “It has become a favourite for celebrity chefs and cookery programmes, and really seems to have resonated with the UK customer,” she says. “This has awoken an appetite for Continental-type products and brought new customers to the Continental fixture.”

However, it’s not all down to Jamie Oliver & co. Higher retail prices for what were once considered ‘value meats’ mean shoppers have to pay a much smaller premium these days to trade up to ‘posher’ Continental options. “Turkey slices have experienced a significant slump as prices have increased by over £1/kg - a rise of nearly 15%,” says Kantar Worldpanel analyst James Todd. “Shoppers have reacted accordingly, with an almost 15% decline in penetration.”

This isn’t just an issue for turkey. At an average retail price of more than £9/kg, cooked meats are “one of the most proportionally expensive protein sectors available,” says Todd, so maintaining attractive price points is crucial.

Reducing pack sizes is a popular strategy for countering inflationary pressures, and Richard Cullen, consumer insight manager at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, says there has been some significant downsizing in the cooked meats category: “Where you used to get eight or six slices per pack, now it’s four in order to hit a price point.”

However, cheaper-yet-smaller packs won’t be enough to tempt value-conscious shoppers back to the traditional meats fixture. Versatility is key, and Continental meats have a distinct advantage because they often double up as a cooking ingredient, believes Matthew Chiles, MD of The Bath Pig. The supplier is currently negotiating listings with a major retailer for its Spanish-style chorizo, Italian-style salami and tapas-sized cooking chorizo, all due to hit the shelves this spring.

Indeed, where suppliers have developed products suitable for a range of usage occasions, they have managed to do well even in the toughest sub-categories of the cooked meats market. Bernard Matthews claims value sales of its turkey chunks, for example, have increased by 55% over the past year, bucking the otherwise dismal trend in the cooked turkey sector. “We would like to think we were slightly ahead of the curve and recognised a gap in the market,” says brand marketing controller Charlie Douglas. “We believe the range’s success is because this type of product fits with consumers’ eating habits - increased snacking, and the flexibility to use the product in a sandwich or as part of a main meal.”

This focus on versatility is echoed by ham giant Tulip. “Sliced cooked meat usage is evolving and a new set of need states are emerging,” says senior category manager Nicola Hobson. “As an industry, we have the opportunity to help inspire consumers about the different ways in which they can use cooked sliced meats, whether it is making a more interesting sandwich or as an ingredient, topping or snack.”

But Wicks at Sainsbury’s wants suppliers to go further and develop products that are tailored not just to different types of meals, but different types of sandwiches. “We know that 85% of cooked meats end up in a sandwich,” she says. “You only have to look at the innovation in the bread category to see that a sandwich is no longer just two slices of square white bread. The biggest opportunity for cooked meats is to provide solutions that fit many different sandwich options, such as wraps and paninis.”

‘Horsegate’

Away from new formats and recipe ideas, suppliers are hoping clear quality and provenance messages will help make their products stand out - especially in light of the horsemeat scandal. Brands in particular are seeing an opportunity to reassure consumers with the help of a familiar name, and gain some much-needed traction in a category dominated by own label.

“We have a big role to play to reinstall confidence for consumers,” says Dawn Simon, marketing manager for Kerry Foods’ Richmond brand. Kerry extended Richmond into cooked meats last June, launching a sliced ham with ‘100% natural ingredients’, and Simon says the product has achieved £4m in sales to date. “To be able to say ‘no artificial flavours or preservatives’ is a really standalone claim,” she adds. “Being able to make that claim is hugely exciting in a category heavily dominated by own label.”

“To be able to say ‘no artificial flavours or preservatives’ is a really standalone claim”

Dawn Simon, Kerry Foods

Bernard Matthews is also playing the 100% card. “The key for all own-label and branded businesses is the provenance of their products,” says Douglas. “As a 100% British turkey business, we are well placed to engage with consumers. Segmentation, such as ‘no added water’, also helps define quality and provide differentiation of product across the category, which ultimately means retailers can set a range of price points based on information the consumer understands.”

Despite their confidence, brands have their work cut out. Own label actually increased its share by 0.9pp year-on-year, to account for 85.2%, whereas value sales of branded cooked meats have declined by 0.5pp, reducing their share to 14.8%. Brands fared even worse in volume terms, declining by 4.5% year-on-year, while own-label volumes rose by 3% [Kantar].

The comparatively strong performance of own label isn’t to say all retailers have done equally well. In fact, their cooked meat sales reflect some wider trends in the grocery market: except for Sainsbury’s, all the big four have seen value sales slide over the past year, while cooked meat sales in the discounters have rocketed by 16%, with indies and symbol groups (up 16.4%) and Waitrose (up 6.5%) also doing well [Kantar].

Own-label plans

Some of the mults are already eyeing further tweaks to their own-label offerings. Having suffered a 3.5% value sales slump in its cooked meats category, The Co-operative Group has turned its attention to its premium Truly Irresistible range in a bid to boost sales. In February, it launched a British thick-carved dry-cured Applewood smoked ham (see box) and a British peppered pork loin, and extended its standard-tier range with Continental products, including Spanish tapas and German sausage selection packs.

By contrast, Morrisons, whose value sales dipped 0.6% year-on-year, is focusing on the value end of the market. With consumers paying close attention to food expenditure and waste, large packs of sliced meats have performed “very well”, says head of meat trading Andrew Smith. “In 2013, we expect increased sales across lower-tier products as consumers manage their food bills within budget.”

“Chorizo resonates with UK customers and has awoken an appetite for Continental products”

Rebecca Wicks, Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, sees promotional mechanics as an important part of its cooked meats strategy, and Wicks attributes its 1.4% value sales increase over the past 12 months to multibuy deals across a range of tiers, from Taste the Difference to Basics.

Clear signposting and making the fixture easy to shop will be important priorities for 2013, believes Hobson at Tulip. “Proliferation of range, pack sizes and formats has made the category more difficult to shop, as new product ideas have entered the category,” she says. “Shoppers are faced with an overwhelming number of product and format choices, and we need to focus on making it easy for them to find what they need rather than introducing additional choice, which may have limited category benefit.”

So far, there is little danger of consumers being overwhelmed with additional choice in 2013. “We have not seen significant NPD across cooked meats,” says Morrisons’ Smith.

The exception to that rule could come, you guessed it, from the Continent. “There are still products from parts of Europe that we have little or no knowledge of in the UK, such as Catalonian longaniza, fuets or somalla vela, says Chiles at The Bath Pig. “The UK market for these is still extremely niche and undiscovered, whereas many parts of Europe treat them as staple household products.”

If the runaway success of chorizo is anything to go by, the traditional cooked meats sector should see this as a serious warning shot - and up its game.

Pig in straw

The Bath Pig Italian Style Salami

Launched: April 2013 Manufacturer: The Bath Pig

The Bath Pig is hoping its ‘100% British pork’ claim will attract consumers to its latest Continental meat NPD: Italian-style salami. The 130g ambient salami is RSPCA Freedom Food-certified, and The Bath Pig says it has a firmer texture than any previous products it has produced. The salami was developed with Waitrose to the supermarket’s specifications. It comes whole, so consumers can slice or cut it to their own requirements, and goes on sale in all Waitrose stores on 28 April.

Truly Irresistible British Thick Carved Dry Cured Applewood Smoked Ham

Launched: February 2013

Manufacturer: The Co-operative Group

With on-pack messaging top of the agenda, you would think the Co-op couldn’t get any more descriptors in the title of its latest offering if it tried, but the ham in the 100g packs is matured for seven days and steam-cooked to ‘enhance the succulent texture’.

The East River Smokehouse Co

Launched: September 2012

Manufacturer: Bernard Matthews

The category is turning Continental, but BM is going Stateside with American-style smoked turkey. The range comprises three flavours - New York shaved roast turkey, Tennessee Hickory smoked turkey and Kentucky spiced turkey - and comes after research suggested consumers were 48% more likely to try turkey if it had been smoked.

Richmond 100% natural cooked ham

Launched: June 2012

Manufacturer: Kerry Foods

No artificial additives or preservatives and no added water is the claim to fame of Richmond’s latest offering. The result of six years of Kerry NPD, it is marinated and slow-cooked for a unique flavour. The ASA wasn’t quite so impressed with an ad for the ham, which described it as ‘Britain’s only’ all-natural ham. It is made in Ireland.

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