Online food sales are reshaping how consumers buy beef- USA

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Online food sales are growing, and beef marketers are using innovative ideas to put beef on consumers’ plates. “With online purchases, millennials are quickly changing how we are going to get food,” says Kari Underly, a master butcher in Chicago and owner of Range Partners a meat merchandising consultant.

Online retailer Amazon made headlines with its purchase of Whole Foods this summer. Amazon was already venturing into the meal kit market with a test run in Seattle the past few months. Meal kits deliver food ingredients directly to consumers in individually packaged proportions. The ingredients are cooked at home with a full step-by-step recipe. 

Meal kits also eliminate the need for subscribers to go grocery shopping. “The meal kit phenomenon is going to continue,” Underly says. Trying some of these meal kits herself, Underly believes they might be expensive for some consumers but they provide everything someone needs to cook a quality meal. “They get the instructions, it is an event where they are touching and making their food instead of going out. I think that is pretty powerful,” Underly says. Beef is featured in many of the offerings by meal kit providers like Blue Apron and Plated. Some of the recipes include stir fry, kebabs, burgers and more traditional steaks. “It is exposing people to new ways to eat beef,” Underly adds. Meal kit company HelloFresh has partnered with Greater Omaha Packing Co. to source its beef. 

“As we looked to source high-quality beef to our customers, we came across Greater Omaha who is not only packing high-quality beef, but also cutting steaks under one roof,” says Carl Montgomery, protein strategy manager at HelloFresh US. “This ensures consistent high-quality beef to our customers week over week.” HelloFresh beef has a branded private label and comes in a package serving two people. Included on the labeling is nutrition information, safe handling instructions and a best use by date within seven days of receipt. Three HelloFresh distribution centers, located in New Jersey, Texas and California, receive beef from Greater Omaha.

Montgomery says a majority of the beef is upper 2 ⁄3 Choice, while Sirloin and New York Strip steaks remain popular cuts. “And we do know consumers also love burgers.” Going forward, meal kits could serve as an interim step to new food delivery systems, says Mack Graves, who runs Latigo Management & Marketing Consultants, a meat consulting business. Several companies have experimented with drone delivery for food distribution, but it’s unlikely to include fresh meat. However, there are plenty of services that offer more traditional door-to-door drop-offs. “These kinds of things will provide more convenience for millennials and the next generation coming along … they don’t want to spend time doing mundane cooking tasks,” Graves says. Graves, the former president and CEO of Coleman Natural Meats Inc., isn’t sure what will happen at the retail level in the future with online players like Amazon entering the grocery business. “I suspect that in 50 years there might not be any retail stores,” he says. However, Graves does think restaurants will still play a role in providing meals to people in the coming years. “People still like to go out and have someone prepare a meal for them,” Graves says. “A lot of those meals include beef.”