Fresh Food

Meat Sweats? Meat Volumes Feel the Heat of Inflation

Fresh meat sales by volume were down 7% in 2021, though they remain above 2019 levels
grocery shopper
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In another sign consumers are adjusting their grocery purchases in light of persistent inflation, meat sales by volume declined over the course of 2021, sliding 6.7% over 2020 levels as prices rose, market researcher IRI reported this week. 

Volume sales of fresh meat were off 7.1% for the year and processed meat sales by volume fell 5.8%, although meat volumes remained higher than prepandemic 2019 levels. The volume declines occurred as meat prices at retail spiked by more than in any other grocery category, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest figures, released Jan. 12. In December, IRI noted in its monthly sales report, the average price per pound in the meat department was $4.19, some 14% higher than it was at the end of 2020. 

Dollar sales of meat were off just slightly from 2020's record performance, sliding 0.2% for the year but up nearly 19% vs. 2019.

The sticker shock consumers are seeing on their favorite meat items appears to be having a bigger effect on purchases than supply-chain issues: While 38% of grocery shoppers surveyed by IRI said they had encountered issues with item availability in December, only around 5% said they hadn't been able to find a meat item they were looking for. Top reported out-of-stocks were toilet paper, canned goods and milk. 

Meat isn't the only category to feel pressure from inflation, either: Produce volumes in December were down 4% from the year-ago period, though as with meat they remained above 2019 levels. Within fruit alone, volume sales in December were off 1.5% from the year before, but dollar sales jumped a whopping 13%.

"Beef and pork, produce and chicken/turkey lead the list of items where most people have noticed inflation," IRI and 210 Analytics reported. How are consumers coping? "In response to inflationary pressure around the store," noted the analysts, "45% [of shoppers] look for sales specials more often, 21% buy more private brand and 13% visit different stores." Some 18% said they were stocking up on items for reasons unrelated to inventory concerns; this could have implications across the store in terms of the types of meat and produce items choose, with frozen and shelf-stable items potentially seeing gains.

For the fifth straight month, consumers reported that they prepared approximately 80% of their meals at home. While that's down from a high of 88% in April 2020, it's up from a pandemic low of 77% in July.



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