Through May 17, U.S. ground beef sales increased more than $1 billion compared to the same period last year. That’s just some of COVID-19’s impact on retail meat and poultry markets, says Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics.
“Year-to-date through May 17, meat department dollar sales were up 24.8%, boasting double-digit growth for ten weeks running,” Roerink says. “This reflects an additional $5.5 billion sold versus the same time period in 2019. Year-to-date volume sales through May 17 were up 18.0% over the same period in 2019, reflecting an additional 7.6 billion pounds of meat and poultry sold versus the same time period in 2019.”
Roerink says about 60% of meat’s multi-billion dollar year-over-year gain is due to increased spend per customer. According to IRI, a data analytics and research company, Millennial households were behind the biggest increases in meat spending since the onset of coronavirus, much like they drove growth (not spending) pre-pandemic. Over 2019, Millennials represented $23 out of every $100 spent on meat/poultry, far behind Boomers ($35) and Gen X ($32),
“However, Millennial spending pre-pandemic was rapidly gearing up, at 2.4 times the average, while Boomer spending was slowing down,” Roerink said. “These patterns held up during the pandemic, as Millennials have been among the hardest-hit generations with about 40% of Millennials having lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 or had their work hours reduced. Shoppers under the age of 35, with and without children, lower and higher income, increased meat/poultry spending by more than 50%.”
Consumer comments on the Retail Feedback Group Constant Customer Feedback system point to purchase restrictions and limited inventory continuing to impact purchases during the week of May 17. “The meat department had very little and of course now there are limits on the amount you can purchase. I’ll just have to come back later in the week.” Another wrote, “The items I could not get were just due to the meat shortages and of no fault to the store.” IRI’s measure reflecting the average number of items sold per store remained significantly down for meat, at 296.3. This is the first time the average fell below 300 and reflects 47 fewer items than the same week last year.
IRI’s insights on the average retail price per volume also show significant upward pressure on retail prices for the week ending May 17 versus the same week in 2019 for beef, particularly ground beef, and pork. The average price per volume for turkey, lamb and exotic meats have mostly stabilized in the one-week view compared to mild inflation in the four-week view.
“The overall 26.3% meat department gain was fueled by double-digit gains for all proteins (the week of May 17),” Roerink said. “The two smaller proteins, turkey (+39.5%) and lamb (+40.0%), had the highest percentage gains, but beef easily had the highest absolute dollar gains (+$131 million), followed by chicken (+$39 million) and pork (+$24 million).”
Ground proteins were frequently among those items with purchase limitations in mid-March and again in late April and May. Popular due to their versatility and ease of preparation, grinds achieved big gains over the week ending May 17 versus the comparable week in 2019:
- Ground beef increased 31.2%
- Ground turkey, +33.8%
- Ground chicken, +27.1%
- Ground pork, +11.3%
“Ground beef has been a pandemic powerhouse,” Roerink says. “For instance, looking at four weeks ending April 19, which encompass the two panic buying weeks, household penetration for ground beef rose 7 points to 49% of U.S. households, according to IRI National Consumer Panel data. The average household spent $5 more on ground beef than in the prior year, an increase of 30%. And the buying frequency increased with 23% of buyers purchasing ground beef two or more times during that four week period, up 6% from 2019.”