Meaty Question: Is Bulk Packaging a Mistake?

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American shoppers aren't swearing off meat -- 80 percent of home-cooked meals still include a piece of animal flesh -- but they'd prefer not to buy their meat in packages sized to feed a baseball team.

Reviewing a newly released study of consumers' meat buying for a national meat industry meeting in Dallas, analyst Anne-Marie Roerink this morning reported demand for bulk meat is waning. While shoppers continue to struggle with financial woes, many of them have found it difficult to wring savings from enormous packages of pork chops and ground beef.

"The number of shoppers that buy in bulk dropped tremendously, by 15 percentage points from last year," Roerink told attendees at the 2011 Meat Conference.

Shoppers are continuing to clip coupons and cheat on their regular supermarkets in search of better deals, but bulk buying -- favored as a defensive measure by wary shoppers who could afford the double-digit price tags on massive meat packages -- has dropped off as the economy has improved slightly. Roerink says that's because voluntary savers realized they weren't collecting on their initial meat investment.

According to Roerink, 56 percent of shoppers discard unused meat or poultry on a "fairly regular" basis.

The annual survey showed many shoppers want their meat retailers to help them reduce food waste by creating more sensible packaging. Unmarried respondents said they wished they could buy a package with two chicken breasts, or meat in a quantity that wouldn't force them to eat "the same meat all week." Shoppers expressed frustration over having to buy 1.3 pounds of beef when they only need 1 pound to make Hamburger Helper.

"Of course, we do these things on purpose," Roerink told the crowd of grocery managers and meat packers. "But there are concerns out there."

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