Meat Muscles Through Inflation to Sustain Strong Sales

Meat has proven one of grocery’s most dynamic departments in the last year. Consumer experimentation with cuts, value-add and exotics is more pronounced than ever, despite rising prices and a decrease in promotional activity. And while dietary trends pre-pandemic may have favored less meat-forward plates, the last 20 months have served to underscore the category’s enduring popularity.

“Inflation has definitely hit food prices and, in particular, fresh meat with overall fresh meat average price exceeding $4 per pound ($4.13), an increase of 12.3% for the latest quarter,” says Pete Swanson, senior analyst, IRI Fresh Center of Excellence. Meanwhile, promotional activity has declined. “Overall, the percent of fresh meat sold on deal dropped five percentage points to 28% and below 30% across the major proteins. And the percent of beef product sold on deal dropped nearly eight points.”

But despite fewer deals and rising prices, IRI finds that absolute dollars are still increasing across major proteins and the total meat department, which saw sales increase 1.2% for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 3, 2021 and 3.9% for the last 13 weeks. While the gains are modest, they are also significant when viewed through the lens of 2020 pandemic panic spending, which drove unprecedented meat department sales, says Swanson.

“The sales baseline for 2021 is still ahead of 2020 levels and compared to 2019, meat department sales are nearly 20% higher in the last 52 weeks,” he continues. “Products that attracted new buyers in 2020 such as lamb and exotics like bison have established a base of repeat buyers. Lamb sales are up 33% compared to 2019 and exotics are up 26% from 2019.”

Premium Proteins

Convenience continues to drive sales in meat with consumers looking for new and easy ways to prepare flavorful meals.

“Premiumization products are the darling of the meat department growth,” says Swanson. “Value-add products continue to grow at rates far exceeding conventional counterparts.”

And while IRI finds sales of value-add meats have a relatively low base compared to conventional, the sub-category has not shown signs of plateauing. “With innovations in flavor options, easy-to-prepare will continue to attract new buyers and increase buy rate of existing shoppers,” he adds.

Premiumization on the health and wellness front will also continue to resonate as consumers are increasingly educated on regenerative farming and the care and well-being of livestock raised for human consumption. “This awareness can be seen at the register with continued growth rates in No Antibiotics Ever (NAE) and organic, which have shown slight growth on share to total proteins,” says Swanson.

Better cuts and grades of meat have also hit their stride in traditional grocery, which at one time was only obtainable through restaurants, high-end steak houses and specialty butcher shops, Swanson observes.

“There is definitely a buyer for premium high-end cuts and retailers have recognized this,” says Swanson, pointing to prime grade beef sales, which are up nearly 30% year over year.

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Par : Jennifer Strailey (03/12/2021)

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Photo : Ekaterina Novitskaya (