The mid-year Power of Meat study by FMI–The Food Industry Association and the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education (the foundation for the North American Meat Institute) uncovers how consumer preferences and demand have changed during the ongoing pandemic. Here are 10 findings to sink your teeth into.
- Meat and poultry sales grew 34.6% amid the pandemic on more buyers and trips and greater spending per trip/buyer.Reflecting unprecedented growth, the meat department sold an additional $7.9 billion and 1.4 billion pounds between March 15 and July 26 vs. a year ago. Nearly half (48%) of shoppers bought more meat to support the greater number of at-home meal occasions. Beef generated 61% of new fresh meat dollars, with particular strength for ground beef.
- Home-cooked dinners with meat jumped to 4.6 times per week, but meal planning is becoming more challenging. Meals with meat and poultry are the norm, according to 76% of shoppers. Up from 12% pre-pandemic, flexitarians increased to 16% over concerns about animal welfare, health and sustainability. Five months into the pandemic, the industry has a big opportunity to help consumers who struggle with meal planning (40%) and new recipe and meal ideas (49%).
- Supply tightness caused inflation, narrower assortment and out-of-stocks, which drove different buying behaviors. Led by Millennials, 51% of shoppers have bought different types, 50% different cuts and 58% different brands than they did pre-pandemic. Out-of-stocks were the primary reason for doing so, with shoppers also diverting dollars to frozen meat (33%), seafood (27%), different retailers (27%) or other proteins, such as beans/eggs (25%) or meat alternatives (11%).
- Shoppers also intentionally changed up meat purchases, and 58% predict they will continue to buy a wider variety of items. Cooking more meals prompted 50% of consumers to want more variety in meat purchases. Additionally, consumers bought different cuts and kinds for better value (42%), trying new recipes (37%), going to the store less often (35%) and simply experimenting with different types and cuts more now (34%).
- Nearly two-thirds of consumers say their meat IQ has improved as they intentionally or unintentionally bought differently. The pandemic-driven changes in purchases have resulted in 63% of shoppers considering themselves more knowledgeable about meat. It is a simple, yet powerful formula: More knowledgeable shoppers buy a wider variety of meat/poultry cuts for more home-cooked meals. Routine, cost and lack of confidence were the meat department’s biggest enemies for trial.
- Supermarkets and e-commerce won big, with 14% of shoppers changing shopping methods during the pandemic. Once shelter-in-place mandates ensued, trips fell and basket size rose as shoppers consolidated purchases to limit in-store visits. Supermarkets (53%) and online sellers (3.2%) gained in channel share and dollar sales, but 52% of shoppers say they will return to their regular store post-COVID. Up from 19% before, 38% of shoppers have ordered meat online amid the pandemic.
- The influence of health/nutrition, convenience and meat claims is relatively unchanged and all saw big gains. Pre-pandemic, 25% of shoppers paid a lot of attention to healthy/nutritious meat choices. Now, 12% are paying less attention, while 26% focus on it more. Claims-based meat sales grew 32% amid COVID-19, but 31% of shoppers said they bought it due to out-of-stocks of planned purchases. Even so, 75% of these shoppers plan to continue to buy at least some claims-based meat. Value-added meat sales increased 29.2% during the pandemic, with 63% buying them as often or more.
- Price-per-pound has always ruled the meat purchase, but the role of value and promotions is even more important now. Value has become more important given meat inflation and mounting economic pressure: Forty-six percent changed cuts to save money, 32% say price per pound has a bigger influence on what and how much they buy, but 44% are seeing fewer promos. Shoppers check promotions pre-trip across stores (82%), at their main store (87%) and in the meat case (93%). More than one-quarter check for in-store specials more so now than before.
- Shoppers recognize meat for a good source of nutrients, but fewer believe it belongs in a happy, balanced diet. While 75% of shoppers agree meat is an important source of protein and other nutrients, a lower 66% believe it belongs in a happy, balanced diet. There is wide disparity in agreement among the generations. Fifty-nine percent of Gen Zers agree meat belongs in a happy, balanced diet vs. 75% of boomers.
- During the pandemic, the meat industry managed supply, food safety and employee safety well, according to shoppers. Many consumers feel the meat industry did a good job keeping the supply moving amid the pandemic (51%), ensuring employee safety (42%) and maintaining food safety (42%). While these issues took the headlines, animal welfare communications remain important to 47% of consumers and 62% of flexitarians. The industry has a big opportunity to drive trust in animal protein from the angles of health, animal welfare, planet and social responsibility.
Anne-Marie Roerink is principal of 210 Analytics, which specializes in research for the food retailing industry and authors studies in meat, produce, bakery, deli, frozen, confectionery, snacks and retail operations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.