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Retailers find innovative ways to meet consumer demand for high-end beef products

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Retailers are creating new and innovative ways to market high-end beef products, and in return they’re realizing consumer demand for their efforts, including grocery and restaurant ventures, across the U.S.
“Buehlers Fresh Foods has been in business for 86 years, and is based in Wooster, Ohio, with 13 stores across northeast and central Ohio,” explains Dave Savidge of Buehlers. “It’s currently run by the third generation, and is hinged on quality service and people.”
Buehlers strives to exceed customer expectations, and one place they do this is in the meat case.
“We are looking for premium products to put in our meat case. We have very little product return on the beef end because of the product we chose to market, which is Certified Angus Beef (CAB),” says Savidge.
Buehlers has carried CAB beef for 18 years, and it is the only beef they market.
“We’ve learned consumers are willing to pay a little more for that experience on their center plate. In the down economy, instead of eating out once a week, they’re eating out once a month. When they go out to eat they want that experience, and that premium cut of beef, if that’s what they’re buying. So, we tied two and two together and decided to market a natural prime product,” explains Savidge of Buehlers’s latest high-end beef venture.
“We’re all about service and looking for premium products. Retailers face fierce competition in the marketplace, and we need to position ourselves as trend setters as opposed to coming in second,” says Savidge of the reasoning behind introducing a new high-end product in less than desirable economic times.
“Again, it’s about exceeding customer expectations. That’s why we chose CAB Prime Natural. We have to target customers, and we found that our customers who purchase this are very educated and increasingly aware of sustainability issues. These folks are purchasing $15-plus bottles of wine, organic produce and fresh seafood,” explains Savidge.
“Last year, starting in April, Natural Prime products accounted for five percent of our total beef sales. This trend is increasing, and will be upwards of six to seven percent next year. Of those Prime Natural sales, half are burgers,” says Savidge.
Tom Ryan is another retailer who is marketing high-end hamburgers with great success through his company SmashBurger, founded in June 2007.
“Our goal is to be every city’s favorite place for burgers. We work to not only manage the product, but to manage the overall experience and make sure we are providing the consumer a product they can use for multiple occasions,” says Ryan.
“Burgers are America’s favorite food, and a $100 billion industry. There has been a recent resurgence as burgers come back to the consumer in new and interesting ways, and we want to lead that,” adds Ryan.
His first step in creating a successful business was to identify his consumers.
“We want to have great, interesting, differentiated food. Even with things as familiar as the burger, we’re still looking at quality, or other elements of differentiation, that make it compelling. We need affordability – we call it twice-a-week affordability – and we think that really captures the definition of value we provide,” says Ryan.
He adds that the average check is eight dollars per person at SmashBurger, and that the restaurant does 45 percent of its business at lunch and 55 percent at dinner. Customers order at a counter, are handed their beverage and sit down. Food is brought to them in less than six minutes, and the average customer spends around 20 minutes in the restaurant.
“The menu is 100 percent Angus beef, and also uses CAB beef broadly and is built to stay that way. We localize about 15 percent of each menu, and try to find things people love within their region. We have beer and wine, and most of it’s local. We have five recipes that account for roughly 70 percent of our burger orders, and we offer up to four different buns and 15 toppings. There are also premium toppings, and customers can pay more for those if they want,” says Ryan of how the restaurants are set up.
“It all leads to using quality, fresh products. We use CAB broadly, Hines ketchup and Haagen-Dazs shakes. Theses are all basic products, but there’s added value to them, and customers give us high marks,” notes Ryan.
His idea is working, and Smashburger will end 2011 with about 93 stores, adding over 90 stores to the original restaurant in about five years.
Savidge and Ryan presented their information during the Cattlemen’s College, held in conjunction with the NCBA Annual Convention and Trade Show, in Denver, Colo. on Feb 3. Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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