Fresh Food

Meat Sales Continue to Skyrocket Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s 'slim pickings' as sales surge across all proteins and offerings
Photograph: Shutterstock

As school closures, social distancing guidelines and other coronavirus-related measures significantly sharpened, the week ending March 8 saw a fast acceleration of meat sales in dollars, units and volume. The heroic efforts of everyone in the meat and poultry industries ensured the supply kept flowing while retailers restocked their meat cases again and again as shoppers across the country stocked up on meat and poultry to feed their families.

The meat department stock-ups jumped even higher during the week ending March 15, 2020, vs. the comparable week in 2019, when sales without deli meat were up an incredible 76.9%, according to data insights firm IRI, which found deli meat sales advancing 40.4%.

Whether fresh beef, chicken, pork, turkey or lamb, smoked meats or deli meats, shoppers were less discriminating than usual. Thirteen weeks prior to March 15, IRI found the highest growth for fresh beef (3.7%) and the lowest for fresh lamb (0.1%). Twelve weeks prior, beef growth jumped to 9.8% and lamb to 4.6%. During the week of March 15, turkey registered the highest growth nearly doubling dollar sales, at 96.1%, and lamb increased sales by more than 50% as well. Beef and chicken, by far the largest categories, increased sales by $376 million and $183 million, respectively. 

Sales Growth for Latest Week and Four, 12 and 13 Weeks Ending March 15, 2020 

Source: IRI, total U.S. multioutlet, weeks ending March 15, 2020

Many stores have closed their full-service counters or are limiting the hours to prioritize meat associates to spend their time stocking and restocking the meat cases, answering shoppers’ questions and vigorously cleaning all surfaces every evening. A meat associate at Walmart commented that each time he goes to the back to refill his cart, he’s comes back to newly empty shelves. Shoppers are buying it as fast as store associates can put it out.

Volume sales for the week of March 15 were up 68.7%, made possible by processing plants ramping up capacity and distributors diverting supply from foodservice to food retail. Amid the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the country, shoppers’ started preparing for prolonged stays at home, working from home and restaurant closures.

At Winn-Dixie, Mike Freeman, who grabbed the last few packages of ground beef and moved on to ground turkey and lamb, said: “Normally, I don’t freeze any meat and prefer to just buy it fresh every few days. But it can’t hurt to have a little extra.” When asked if he typically buys ground turkey and lamb, Freeman said, "No." “I’ve tried ground turkey a time or two, but I’ve never cooked lamb before," he continued. "It looks just like ground beef or bison, so how hard can it be. And it’s simply slim pickings.”

Growth Drivers

In absolute dollars, the five biggest winners for the week of March 15 were ground beef ($179.1 million), chicken breasts ($89.5 million), pork loin ($36.9 million), chuck ($36.3 million) and ribeyes ($31.6 million), according to IRI. The top 10 items were closed out by beef round and short loin, ground turkey, recipe-ready beef and chicken wings.


According to IRI, ground continued to be big, regardless of species, given its versatile and easy-to-prepare nature. When asked why he mostly stuck to grinds, Freeman said he normally buys specific cuts and kinds for a specific meal. But stocking up his freezer, he wanted items that can be used for a variety of meals—from meatloaf to burgers to spaghetti sauce—and grinds fit the bill.

  • Ground beef increased 99.7%.
  • Ground turkey increased 87.3%.
  • Ground chicken increased 88.3%.
  • Ground pork increased 69.9%.
  • Ground lamb increased 53.2%.


A Detailed Look by Area

Sales surged across all proteins and offerings.

Source: IRI, total U.S. multioutlet, weeks ending March 15, 2020

Fresh beef closed in on $900 million in sales for the week of March 15, gaining $376 million over the comparable week in 2019 (73.1%), according to IRI. Sales had been ramping up from 9.8% over the longer 12-week view to 23.4% over the latest four weeks. Beef volume was up 59.2%. Ground beef, which makes up more than 40% of the beef category, gained big the week of March 15 at 99.7%, adding $179 million in new dollars. Chuck and ribeyes were the second and third largest in terms of absolute dollar gains. Smaller sellers with robust growth were flank/plate (up 102.3%), sirloin (100.2%), ribs (94.0%) and brisket/shank (89.1%).

Fresh chicken gained just under $183 million, or 76.5% over the week of March 15, according to IRI. Volume sales accelerated along with it, up 72%. Generating half of total chicken sales, chicken breasts sold an extra $89.5 million, or 73.5%. Chicken thighs gained more than $20 million (76.9%), and chicken legs increased more than $12 million (79.7%).

Fresh pork sales quickly accelerated as well, up 89.2%, or $87.9 million for the week ending March 15, 2020, according to IRI. Making up just over 45% of pork sales, pork loin added $36.9 million in new dollars, or 77.2%. Pork ribs were the second-biggest winner in absolute dollars, up $17.6 million or 112.4%, followed by pork shoulder blade, up $12 million, or 117.0%. Smoked pork and ham sales also increased significantly over the latest week, at 67.6% and 116.7%, respectively.

Deli meat generated more than $155 million in sales for the week of March 15, 2020, which was up 40.4% over the comparable week in 2019, according to IRI. Deli turkey increased sales by $16.6 million or 43.9%, and deli ham generated an additional $33 million in sales, up 48%.

The subsequent week, March 16-22, saw both an increase in the number of school/office/restaurant closures, social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 related measures and a rising number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Sales updates will be provided weekly. Meanwhile, please thank the entire meat and poultry industry, from farm to store for all they do to ensure supply during these unprecedented times. #MeatFeedsFamilies #SupermarketSuperHeroes

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


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