Fresh Food

At-home dining continues to boost meat sales, but inflation is shifting shopper habits

Winsight Grocery Business’ annual state of the meat department report, with fresh data from IRI, shows how the pandemic and economic forces have impacted meat-buying trends nationwide.
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When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and people were forced inside, they spent a lot of time in their kitchens. It was a natural shift, of course, as restaurants shut their dining rooms and access became limited.

In the nearly three years since, people are still doing a lot of their cooking and eating at home—which is good news for grocery.

Winsight Grocery Business’ annual state of the meat department report finds that trend to also be good news for the meat department.

“What we’re seeing happen in the meat industry over the last three years is in direct response that we used to eat 40% to 50% of our meals in restaurants and now we’re only eating 15% to 30% of meals in restaurants,” Jonna Parker, principal at the Fresh Center of Excellence at IRI, told WGB. “We’re now primarily a home-based society.”

Meat department sales rose 6.4% for the 52 weeks ending on Oct. 9, compared to the same period a year ago, according to data from IRI OmniMarket Integrated Fresh.

Chicken saw the biggest boost during that period, with sales increasing 13.1%, while sales of beef rose 2.5%, pork was up 4.1%, turkey increased 6.4% and lamb sales rose 3.1%.

In 2022, though, inflation has had a major impact on how consumers shop for meat, Parker said.

“In the earlier days of the pandemic and the uncertainty of 2021, consumers in the meat department were doing a lot of stock up,” she said. “They weren’t sure when they were going to get out to the store again.”

But that behavior changed in 2022, as COVID surges subsided a bit and shoppers felt more comfortable making more-frequent grocery trips. But there was another factor at play as well: Inflation.

“Just by the nature of the fact that we are more open, immediately you would’ve seen less volume per trip,” she said. “Couple that with record-high inflation and meat being the most-expensive thing you buy at the store and you have more trips, but less volume per trip … We are buying for what we need vs. stocking up.”

In 2021, meat was one of the first items to make headlines as inflation news appeared on the radar of the average consumer, further impacting buying patterns.

“Throughout the last year-plus, people have had it in their minds that the price of meat is astronomically high,” Parker said. “When something’s headline news, it does end up having an impact on how and what we think and the decisions we make in the store.”

Even as inflation for some proteins ebbed a bit over the summer, an “overall halo of ‘meat’s expensive,’” remained, she added.

Discount grocers and wholesale clubs have noticed the opportunity to advertise low prices on certain cuts of meat.

As of October, only about 40% of all meat that’s sold is going through traditional high-low retailers, she said, with more sales heading to other retail channels.

“Folks like Aldi, Save A Lot and other deep discounters have started to pick up foot traffic on meat,” Parker said.



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