In the past several years the convenience store sector has emerged as an important and rapidly growing outlet for U.S. pork and beef in international markets. This year is no exception, though the sector has made significant adjustments to accommodate changing consumer routines and preferences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jesse Austin, U.S. Meat Export Federation vice president for marketing, explains that many countries have seen a dramatic increase in people working from home, so convenience stores in central business districts have seen a decline in sales while convenience store sales have increased in residential areas.
"Japan certainly didn't invent the concept of convenience stores, but they have perfected it. There are over 58,000 convenience stores across Japan, so this continues to be a dominant source for Japanese consumers to buy U.S. meat," Austin says. "An interesting trend we've seen throughout the pandemic, however, is when companies have gone remote, those employees are not commuting to the inner city every day. We've actually seen a drop in traffic in those inner-city convenience stores, and we've seen traffic increase in the suburban convenience stores. Overall, throughout the pandemic, sales have dropped and traffic has dropped in the convenience store sector. An interesting trend though, is that the sales have dropped much less than the traffic has dropped indicating that the consumers are spending more per visit."
Austin says another trend driving sales is the increase in premium U.S. meat products being offered in convenience stores. He notes that U.S. pork and beef are well-positioned to capitalize on consumers' growing demand for convenient food items that are also high in quality.
"One example is the premium beef rice bowl that we've supported this year, and more recently, the launch of single serving smoked sausage products from a U.S. processor, so really big win for processed pork in the Japanese market," Austin says.
This trend is also not exclusive to Japan, Austin says.
"We're seeing similar trends in Korea and even in Mexico where we've recently launched some U.S. beef processed items in the convenience store sector. We do expect this trend to continue," Austin says. "We're actually even seeing this concept of convenience permeate in some of the other sectors in retail. We're seeing a lot more home meal replacement and e-commerce."