The pandemic has driven a return to that bedrock of American cuisine—meat and potatoes—in a way the industry could not have anticipated just a year ago. Despite some plant closures and supply hiccups earlier this year, animal proteins including beef, chicken, pork, turkey and lamb have triumphed in recent months.
“So far during the pandemic starting March 15 through Sept. 6, overall meat dollar sales are up 30.1% and volume sales have increased 18% vs. the same period last year,” says Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, drawing from IRI data. “This translates into an additional $8.9 billion in meat department sales during the pandemic, which includes an additional $4.1 billion for beef, $1.2 billion for chicken and $909 million for pork than the same period in 2019.”
Plant-based meat alternatives are also resonating in the department. IRI finds sales of meat alternatives were up 100.5% for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 9, and up more than 273% for that period vs. three years ago. Without question, consumers have also turned to plant-based options with greater frequency during the pandemic.
“Since the pandemic, we’ve gone through different waves of consumer reaction,” says Pete Swanson, senior consultant with the IRI Fresh Center for Excellence. “At first, no matter what the product, if it was on the shelf, consumers bought it. In the second wave, which saw supply chain disruption and plant closures along with a surplus in foodservice, retailers were scrambling for product.”
In this second chapter, smaller suppliers benefited, notes Swanson. Products from suppliers of no-antibiotics-ever meat, grass-fed beef and organic offerings that had historically struggled to gain shelf space with conventional grocers were suddenly in demand.
Butchers have made further strides with new shoppers cooking at home with greater frequency. “In general, the meat department is seeing a lot of new consumers. They’ve gotten used to cooking more often, they’ve gained confidence, and they’re buying cuts they never would have bought before,” says Swanson.
The most disruptive days in meat may be behind us, continues Swanson. “The supply chain balanced out, got through the plant closures and price hikes, and we’re now settling—at least for the time being—into a new norm,” he adds. Commodity beef and pork decreased 5 cents per pound every week and are now at almost the same price point as a year ago, Swanson says. And while out-of-stocks were predominant in the spring, he finds that product availability in the fresh meat case has returned to the same levels as a year ago. “In any given fresh meat case today, the overall item count is approximately 330. A year ago, it was 335,” he says.
Processed meats are also on the move, with sales up across the board from dinner and breakfast sausage to packaged lunch meat and frankfurters.
Total U.S. multioutlet | “YA” is the year ago for the same weeks ending 2019; 3 YA is the same weeks ending 2017 | IRI Unify in the Integrated Fresh syndicated hierarchy and data model was used for this report
Notes: Meat alternatives/substitutes is refrigerated plant-based proteins only | All other meat includes veal, exotic game/fowl and generic “ring-on” codes assigned to the meat department
Source: IRI Syndicated Integrated Fresh database, which combines random- and fixed-weight brands/product types known to be sold in this department at the majority of retailers
Measures: Dollar sales refers to the total cumulative dollar sales sold for that product during the time period (not included, but used as reference); dollar sales change refers to the percent difference between the current and prior period for total dollar sales; dollar share to dept. refers to the total dollar sales of that product divided by the total dollar sales of the department to which it belongs; dollar share to category refers to the total dollar sales of that subcategory divided by the total dollar sales of the parent category