Fresh Food

Meat Sales Slow to Single-Digit Growth for First Time Since March

Everyday growth still outstripped last year’s Labor Day sales
Photograph: Shutterstock

The last full week of August saw the smallest increases since the start of the pandemic across virtually all departments. Prior months had also shown weak final week of the month sales and, in this case, the results were further influenced by a much earlier Labor Day in 2019 that fell on Sept. 2. That means the sales results of the week ending Aug. 30, 2020, went up against the 2019 Labor Day sales. Labor Day has always been a massive holiday week for grocery—making it a much harder holiday to beat than ones that had more of a split retail vs. foodservice nature in typical years, such as Mother’s Day. Additionally, sales were negatively affected by more extreme weather events, impacting large parts of Louisiana and Texas.

The net effect for the meat department was the first single-digit increase vs. a year ago since the week of March 15, at 1.5%. While at first glance this may seem like a disappointing gain, it is important to remember that this year’s everyday demand managed to beat last year’s holiday demand during one of the biggest grilling weekends of the summer. At the same time, the 1.5% increase in dollars was driven by inflation with meat volume down 6% vs. a year ago. Prices continued to drop in favor of the consumer, with an average of $3.76 per volume across all meats during the week of Aug. 30 vs. $3.80 the week prior. The week of Aug. 30, 2020, had 6.3% fewer transactions compared to same week a year ago when Labor Day drove an increased engagement. 

Meat Department Dollar and Volume Growth vs. Comparable Week in 2019 

Source: IRI, multioutlet, one-week percent growth vs. a year ago

So far during the pandemic, starting March 15 through Aug. 30, overall meat dollar sales are up 31.7% and volume sales have increased 19.1% vs. the same period last year. This translates into an additional $8.7 billion in meat department sales during the pandemic, which includes an additional $4 billion for beef, $1.2 billion for chicken and $881 million for pork than the same period in 2019.

Dollar vs. Volume Gains

The gap between dollar gains and volume gains narrowed to 7.5 percentage points—the smallest gap since mid-April and down from 19.1 points during the week of June 21. After several strong weeks, processed meat sales were flat in dollars and off 10.1% in volume in going up against the 2019 holiday weekend.  

Price per Volume and Volume/Dollar Gap

IRI insights on the price per volume shows prices were still elevated the last full week of August vs. 2019 levels, but much less so than during May and June. Pork, turkey and lamb prices are fairly close to last year’s levels, with only ground beef showing double-digit inflation. Volume sales turned negative for the big grilling powerhouse meats, including processed meats, beef (in particular ground beef) and pork. Chicken was mostly flat, whereas the smaller proteins, turkey, lamb and exotic meats, still had robust gains. Exotic meat, that includes bison, had the highest year-over-year volume gain, at 23.3%.


The slow and steady comeback in the number of items stalled out this week, at an average of 324 items per store selling. This is down about 17 items from prior year levels that saw a slight holiday bump in assortment.

Meat Gains by Protein

Pork was the only one of the fresh proteins that was down in dollars vs. a year ago during the week ending Aug. 30, due to last year’s Labor Day. Lamb had the highest dollar gains, at 24.4% vs. year-ago levels.

The Pandemic Sales Performance by Area

Meat department sales were $1.23 billion during the week of Aug. 30—about $35 million lower than the week prior for a week-over-week loss of 2.8%. On the fresh side, beef accounted for 54.4% of dollars. Chicken was next at 26.4% of dollars. In a complete reversal from most of the pandemic weeks, the holiday effect prompted chicken to have the highest absolute dollar gain, at more than $16 million, followed by $6 million for beef. Pork sales were down $11 million vs. a year ago. Fresh chicken accounted for 92.6% of new dollars this week.

Regional Performance

Hurricane Laura affected meat department sales in Louisiana and Texas and likely other states as its path continued northward. As seen throughout the pandemic reporting, hurricane and other severe weather impacts tend to favor processed meat sales, while fresh meat sales fall far below average.


As a holiday powerhouse, ground beef had a tough time going up against the 2019 Labor Day weekend sales, which led to declines in both dollars and volume. The other three grinds, turkey, chicken and pork, did extremely well. The performance is particularly remarkable for pork, which saw total volume sales down 11.1% but ground pork volume up 10.2%. While a small percentage of sales this looks to be an indicator of some of the pandemic protein shifting having prolonged legs.  

  • Ground beef decreased -2.6% in dollars and declined -14.3% in volume.
  • Ground turkey increased 8.1% in dollars and 5.5% in volume.
  • Ground chicken increased 21.8% in dollars and 21.4% in volume.
  • Ground pork increased 11.4% in dollars and 10.2% in volume.

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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