After sliding every month since January, the share of meals that U.S. consumers prepared at home ticked back up in August amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, market researcher IRI reported.
Consumers prepared almost 80% of their meals at home in August, up from 76.6% of meals made and eaten at home in July, according to IRI and 210 Analytics' latest montly sales report. In addition, the share of consumers who said they had eaten on-premise at a restaurant during the month dropped slightly to 48% in August from 50%—a pandemic high—in July.
"With the elevation of COVID-19 cases in the past month, IRI's latest survey wave among primary shoppers found that the share of meals prepared at home increased once more," IRI team lead for fresh Jonna Parker stated. And how they bought the groceries for those meals prepared at home shifted slightly, too: Online orders saw an uptick in August after several months of consumers making a growing share of their grocery purchases in-store, Parker noted.
That finding echoes one released earlier this week by research partners Brick Meets Click and Mercatus, which reported a 4% rise from July to August in the share of consumers buying groceries online.
Even small shifts in favor of online vs. in-store purchases can affect what goes into consumers' carts—and, in turn, the sales performance of given categories and products, stated Parker. Sales of some perimeter bakery items (desserts/sweet snacks and morning bakery goods) that may be impulse, special-treat basket adds during in-store trips but overlooked or skipped when shopping online, slipped in August.
Within the fresh category, only two meat products, bacon and ground beef, made the list of the top 15 fresh items that consumers bought online. That could have to do in part with some continued skittishness about ordering fresh meat online—or at least ordering it in the same volume or number of SKUs that they would in store—but it also could be the result of the higher meat prices consumers are finding online and in stores.
For all meat and poultry items that IRI studies, the average price per pound volume at retail was $3.89 in the first quarter of 2021, $4.08 in the second quarter and $4.31 in August. Last month also was the first time this year in which meat volume sales dropped vs. both 2020 and 2019 levels, according to IRI and 210 Analytics' report. Year over year, sales volumes declined for beef, chicken, pork, turkey and lamb, the report noted.
With retail prices rising for meat, however, dollar sales of fresh meat in August were up 3.9% vs. a year ago and 18.3% vs. 2019. That includes gains of 5.9% for fresh pork vs. 2020, 5.2% for fresh chicken, and 3.1% for fresh beef, which saw dollar sales climb nearly 21% on a two-year stack.
Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that wholesale beef and veal prices were up more than 59% year over year in August. On Tuesday, the bureau reported that consumer prices for beef were up 12.2% year over year, helping drive an 8% increase in prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs for the month.
Even with the resurgent pandemic prompting some small changes in consumer behaviors in August, IRI concluded, the shifts were "nothing like the changes seen in 2020 or earlier this year." And grocery retains its strong positioning with consumers, despite an evolving inflationary environment. "The mix of foodservice and retail solving consumer meal needs remains tipped to the retail/at-home side for the foreseeable future," IRI stated.