Meat consumption holds steady as consumers alter amount, type to combat inflation

By Lauren Nardella

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/10'000 Hours
Source: Getty/10'000 Hours

Related tags Meat Beef Pork Poultry

Consumers are reacting to higher meat prices by shifting how much and what type they buy, but the share of households purchasing meat or poultry from retailers was virtually unchanged in 2022, according to a new report.

The Power of Meat 2023 report​, released by the Meat Institute and FMI, the Food Industry Association, found that meat sales reached $87.1 billion in 2022, up 5.7% from a year ago, with a 98.3% household penetration.

However, the volume of meat purchased dipped 2.5% from 2021, with consumers purchasing 20.3 billion pounds.

“Meat eaters are focused on buying only what they need and look for sales promotions, coupons, markdowns and meal types that help stretch the meat dollar,” according to the report.

For the report, 210 Analytics surveyed over 1,600 grocery shoppers who describe themselves as meat eaters or flexitarians from December 14-16 on behalf of FMI and the Meat Institute’s Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education.

“The research tells us that we’re seeing a more price-conscious shopper, but we’re also witnessing shoppers seeking ‘simple pleasures’ and that’s one area among others where the meat department can delight,” said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for FMI. “For example, shoppers concerned about food prices might opt to splurge on an at-home date-night meal. Food retailers can best serve today’s shoppers by emphasizing value-added meat options and catering to shoppers with meal solutions.”

Beef sales steady as prices relatively stable

Meat purchase decisions are largely driven by product quality and appearance, followed by price per pound and total package price, according to the report.

Beef led the way among all fresh meat sales in 2022 with $30.6 billion sold, comprising 53% of all fresh meat dollars. Dollar sales were up 1% from the year prior while volume sold dipped 2.6%.

Chicken came in second at $15.6 billion, with dollar sales up 15% from 2021 and volume sold down just 0.8%, suggesting that consumers largely maintained their purchases of chicken despite higher prices.

Beef and chicken were followed by pork ($7.3 billion), turkey ($2.9 billion) and lamb ($531 million).

In the processed category, bacon and pre-packaged lunch meat were the top sellers, at $6.4 billion each.

Total processed meat sales were up 8% on a dollar basis to $29.4 billion, largely attributed to packaged lunch meat price increases of nearly 19.4% from the year prior, while overall processed meat volume sales declined 3.6%.

Millennials, Gen X driving spending

The report suggests that marketers can work to align with customers’ needs during this inflationary environment.

“Consumers are relying on familiar, versatile cuts and they will welcome tips on how to save while bringing protein variety to the plate,” the report advises.

While meat spending in the past has been driven by the Boomer market, it’s now shifting to Gen X and Millennials, and appealing to those consumers will be key to grow sales over the next five years.

“Trip patterns and channel choices are likely to change with Millennials and Gen X shopping less often but buying more per trip favoring larger pack sizes, mixed protein offerings and freezer-ready vacuum packaging with longer shelf life,” per the report.

Millennials have favored supercenters, clubs and online outlets for meat shopping, and those locales saw gains while traditional grocery stores lost share, declining from 42.8% of meat and poultry sales in 2019 to 40.3% in 2022, representing a shift of several billions of dollars.

“Get creative” on meat promotions

Two-thirds of consumers say they are comparing meat price promotions before they shop, and 86% are searching through packages to find the size and price that they want.

However, there are fewer promotions available, with the percentage of meat pounds sold on promotion dropping 12.4% from 2019.

“Due to continued supply chain issues, promotional levels are still below their pre-pandemic levels, both in availability and the depth of discount, in particular for processed meat items,” the report explains.

In the report, FMI and the Meat Institute encouraged marketers to “get creative” on promotions to capture customers looking for a deal.

“With consumers keenly aware of elevated prices and fewer promotions, the meat industry can provide savings hacks and price out the total meal as an example to point out the favorable cost of home-prepared meals over restaurant options,” the report says.

Helping with meal prep helps customers

According to the survey, 87% of meals consumed at home included a portion of meat or poultry, including fresh, processed, frozen, ready-to-eat and heat-and-eat products.

With consumers crunched for time, marketers could focus on hybrid meals, such as those “featuring items cooked from scratch and convenience-focused items, such as value-added and fully-cooked meat and poultry solutions,” to capture additional sales.

One-third of consumers say they are stressed for time when preparing dinner, and 37% say a lack of time is as big a problem as lack of money.

The meat industry can serve as a “helping hand” to help consumers save time and money with meal planning and preparation ideas, the report suggests.

For instance, shoppers are utilizing more digital sources to “help inspire and curate meal inspiration” in the post-pandemic era, led by recipe websites and YouTube.

That shift to digital presents an opportunity for the industry to create brand awareness as well as expand recipe resources featuring a variety of meat and poultry ideas.

“YouTube has emerged as the primary social media platform, well ahead of Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest,” the report points out. Further, “generational differences are significant, particularly for the role of social media as the source of meal inspiration.”

Reducing meat consumption instead of cutting out

Meanwhile, 33% of Americans say they are actively trying to consume less meat and poultry, largely due to increased costs and followed by health and environment concerns, but just 6% say they would like to eliminate it from their diets completely.

“Those looking to reduce their consumption are focused on portion size much more so than eating meatless meals,” the report explained, adding that meat eaters have been slow to adopt plant-based alternatives, “and there is significant skepticism surrounding cultured meat.”

The meat industry may be able to help counter that by being transparent about production and sourcing, while emphasizing animal protein’s role in the diet.

The report notes that only 7% of meat eaters disagree that meat and poultry belong in a healthy, balanced lifestyle, while 74% of meat eaters say they do belong.

Cost is the biggest driver for consumers to eat less meat and poultry, with 52% citing it as the top factor in 2022, compared with just 16% in 2020.

“In addition to cost, meat consumers cite concerns regarding the healthfulness of meat and poultry and antibiotics, hormones and chemicals,” according to the report. “Environment concerns rated third, while animal welfare is a fourth driver -  the combination of which is prompting some guilt over eating meat and poultry.”

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