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Meat remains top dog for Americans

Getty Images/Spencer Platt Beef case at a grocery store
Power of Meat report shows consumers continue to count on meat’s taste, quality, convenience and value.

The 17th annual Power of Meat report released this week revealed that nearly all American households (98.5%) purchase meat, a trend supported by an increase in volume sales (up 3.9% for all meat compared to pre-pandemic levels). This increase is due, in part, to several grocery shopper trends resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased home cooking, record-high online shopping, and a shift to digital sources for recipe inspiration.

“The Power of Meat shows Americans continue to count on meat’s taste, quality, convenience, and value throughout another unusual and challenging year,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the Meat Institute. “The Meat Institute and partners in the Protein PACT for the People, Animals and Climate of Tomorrow will continue to deliver information and innovation for the 98.5% of American households that purchase meat, continuously working to support healthy families, healthy communities, healthy animals, and a healthy planet.”

The study was conducted by 210 Analytics on behalf of FMI—The Food Industry Association and the Meat Institute’s Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education.

Trends in meat eater shopping trips

Study results showed that 74% of Americans describe themselves as meat eaters, and although meat department visits declined slightly, shoppers spent a little more during each trip. In fact, fresh meat sales in 2021 were $54.8 billion, up very slightly from 2020.

Beef continued to be the “king of the castle,” with $30 billion in sales, according to 210 Analytics President Anne-Marie Roerink. This was also a slight increase from 2020. Fresh chicken sales in 2021 were even with the year prior at $13 billion, while pork sales were $7 billion, down from 2020.  

An even greater story is found in the ground meat category results, especially ground beef.

“Ground beef is so unbelievably huge. It’s more than one-third of the total beef dollars-- $11.2 billion in 2021,” Roerink said. “And while that wasn’t quite as much in dollars as it was in 2020, it’s up 15% against pre-pandemic levels.”

Interestingly, chicken, beef, lamb, and bison also continue to grow.

“What’s so interesting about that is if you think about grinds, that’s where a lot of the innovation is happening,” Roerink said. “But that’s also an item that’s versatile, people feel comfortable preparing it.”

In response to higher prices and inflationary pressures, shoppers are eating out and ordering in from foodservice less often, while trying to recreate restaurant experiences at home instead, and have adjusted retail meat purchase habits.

Volume remains significantly above pre-pandemic levels for fresh (up 3.7% since 2019) and prepared meats (up 4.3% since 2019). Fresh beef volume increased nearly 5% since 2019, bacon 7%, and fresh lamb sales increased nearly 20%. More meat consumers shopped online than ever (61%, up from just 39% in 2019), and nearly half of meat shoppers (46%) today shop online regularly.

Seeking cooking inspiration for meat

Americans are eating 80% of meals at home (down from 88% at the pandemic peak in April 2020), and 57% prepare four to seven dinners per week with meat. More than half of meat shoppers (51%) say websites, apps, and social media are their top resources for meat preparation advice. Of those who search online for meat cooking tips and ideas, 72% use Google or another search engine and 57% use YouTube. Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok are particularly popular with Generation Z and millennials—used by around half of shoppers in those generations for discovering meat preparation inspiration. For example, 53% of Generation Z find meat inspiration on TikTok, compared to just 4% of Boomers. The top three searches for all generations are by type of meat, specific cuts, and specific preparation methods (like air fryers).

“Shoppers’ Meat IQ is higher than ever, and the Power of Meat shows they are looking for even more ways to purchase meat and get inspiration for preparing meals,” said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for FMI—The Food Industry Association. “Retailers are constantly working to give shoppers more choices in the meat department and further enhance in-store and online shopping options.”

Alternative selections

Study results showed flexitarians now make up 16% of consumers. Vegans/vegetarians, on the other hand, remain at 6%, a level that has been nearly unchanged for 17 years.

Results from the study did show that older generations (83%) believe meat belongs in a diet as opposed to 57% of Gen Z. Thirty-seven percent of all consumers surveyed said they were trying to reduce their consumption of meat.

Still, skepticism surrounding cultivated meat remains, plant-based meat alternatives hold steady, and blends have potential. Forty percent of consumers are unwilling to try cultivated meat versus 29% being open. Plant-based meat alternatives remain mostly an occasional choice with only 9% eating them weekly. Sales plateaued mid-year and backslid in the third and fourth quarters. It is blended items that enjoy both higher household penetration and a greater preparation frequency than alternatives, results suggest.

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