You (M)eat with your eyes

Grocery store arrangement has been studied carefully since the 1970’s.  Researchers during various time periods and using different methods looked at the relationship between shelf management and customer purchasing decisions.  What they found, despite minor discrepancies in each study, was that anything from music, to lighting, placement of products, label facing, aisle length and width, signs and displays, and even aroma could affect customer purchases, whether positively or negatively.

Considering all the market research that goes into any particular product, it is not surprising that the venue that houses all these products also has done its own consumer homework when it comes to boosting sales.  Do you ever pass a grand display that is showcasing a product that is barely on sale, but for some reason it seems like an irresistible bargain?  Or hear the lady that comes on the loudspeaker and says gently, “Folks, it’s 5 oclock, which means there is warm, freshly baked bread in the bakery department waiting just for you.”  Or you purchase ice cream only to turn around and nearly knock over a display filled with chocolate syrup? 

Or my favorite... the open refrigerator.  That’s right, no doors at all, glass or otherwise, blocking you from whatever chilled or frozen treats lay within arm’s length.  If you suddenly wonder why you have a cart full of expensive food that was not on your grocery list when you came in, you my friend are a victim of grocery store psychologists at work.

Much like a chef uses plating to excite a diner for their meal, managing your meat display case will become an important part of managing your sales.  Keeping the glass and the trays clean is obvious.  What is difficult is how to use these subtleties of attracting customers to your advantage.  Your dreams of becoming an interior designer are coming true!  With a little ambiance and setting the mood, you can make your customers more hungry.


There is something unappealing about a dimly lit case.  A fellow butcher friend once had a light out in her case and while she was waiting for it to get fixed, not a single product sold from that case.  Likewise, there is something unappealing about a weird, sterile, fluorescent looking case as well.  Any kind of light that appears to change the color of your meat is a definite no-no.

If you are making an investment into a butcher shop, why would you skimp on the one thing that is there to make your food more appealing?  More and more, LEDs are saving businesses money, but are also improving lighting in grocery stores.  LEDs mimic natural light and can make your products look even more colorful and vibrant.  Kind of like MSG for your display case lighting.  Work with your lighting professional to choose a line of LEDs that can best closely mimic natural light and give the proper number of lumens so as not to be too bright and not too dim.  If you are building your butcher shop or looking to retrofit, there are tax incentives out there for LED lighting and your utility may be able to give you a few other ideas to help cut costs.  Even though it feels like they are more expensive up front, you will reap bountiful rewards in energy savings and meat sales.

Size and arrangement of the case

can you see that lonely roast hiding in the dark? would you buy that one? didn't think so

can you see that lonely roast hiding in the dark? would you buy that one? didn't think so

If you are planning on really moving meat out the door, congratulations.  Go get ‘em, tiger.  However, I caution you to avoid grandiose dreams of a display case the size of a cruise ship.  I recommend having a smaller meat case than you may think is appropriate.  This is because customers respond better to a smaller but full and bountiful looking case than to a large, sparsely organized case.

A small case is easier to keep stocked, product lasts longer, and is more appealing.  The customer will be better able to browse all the options, making it more likely that they will notice and choose something else that interests them but wasn’t necessarily on their list.  It also means that the customer is always within a good question-asking distance from the butcher.

A large case, although it will give you lots of space, is harder to keep stocked, and the product must be sold faster.  Lots of empty space between products will make your case look sparse and kind of sickly.  What I see often times is butcher shops that don’t sell fast enough, end up shutting down one of thecoolers entirely.  One empty cooler at the end of your case is going to give the impression that you don’t do a lot of business and you don’t have a lot of inventory or variety, and there must be a reason for that.  It is worth having to restock a smaller case more often if it means improving overall appearance.  You should be attending to the case when you get free moments anyway, to make sure everything is nicely arranged and the inventory is properly managed.

Size of the case is more important than whether to use tightly organized trays or a more free form method.  I know butcher shops that use narrow trays that are nicely organized and arranged so that the cuts look fresh and uniform.  The photo shown below is of another butcher shop that uses a more organic method, arranging groups of enticing cuts and cured products at different levels, allowing your eye to wander like a willy wonka chocolate room for meat.  Despite which method you use, keeping all the cuts organized, fresh, and fully stocked should be your main priority.


Partially and fully prepared foods

Marinating, pre-cooking, or preparing various types of meat products are great ways to promote seasonal sales or flavors, score points with the “quick and easy cooking” crowd, and add a signature stamp onto your products.  A cheddar brat or smoked wings during superbowl weekend, corned beef during st patty’s day, porkapalooza over Easter are all excellent ideas.

It is also an effective alternative to putting meat on sale when it needs to sell.  Unfortunately, some people know this too.  There is something inherently fishy about meat that is swimming in a dark marinade, like a cloak hiding its imperfections and “on the verge” smells.  An “on the verge” conversation with my wife:  her: “can you smell this?”  me: “yes, it smells fine”  “no, really smell it.”  “I did, and I think it’s ok.”  “Just one more time.”  “If you think it’s bad, then throw it out.”  “I’m gonna throw it out.”  Just like my wife errs on the side of caution, some customers just try to avoid “pre-treated” meat.

Do not let a large percentage (like, more than 15%) of pre-marinated items, (“our OWN house made carne asada!”) or pre-made items (“not your grandma’s meatloaf!”), or pre-cooked items (rotisserie chicken in the background like a ferris wheel), take over your butcher case.  If people start to get the impression that most of your products are either swimming in sauce or cooked, it will start to feel like your food is not fresh.  Moreover, controlling salt, artificial flavors and preservatives is becoming a priority for customers.  It is not hard to choose a reliable bottled marinade or simply make it yourself, so keep the mystery sauces to a minimum.

I hope you can use these tips for building and arranging your case.  After that, it’s just all about great customer service and having a great product, and you’ve got a recipe for success.