By Rick Stein, Vice President of Fresh, FMI

meat on plate
Ever since humans first cooked meat over flame, it’s been a dietary staple – a source of nourishment and comfort. Flash forward to 2020, when there is a sort of a primal demand for animal-based protein amid a time of uncertainty.


That’s not to say that people are cooking whatever hunks of meat they can find. In a marketplace that was quite robust and diverse before the pandemic, consumers are buying different kinds of meat and poultry products and using them in a variety of ways.

Think of today’s selling environment like one of those retail meat cut posters hanging in the butcher shop or meat department. There is a market as a whole, but it is portioned into different sections. Each section has its own features and applications.

The Market for Value

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing with regional flare-ups, shoppers have made decisions based on food availability, both in stores and in their homes. Many consumers went back to traditional animal proteins for the center of the plate, something that had been eroding in the past decade. All of the sudden, it was important to get chicken, beef, pork and other meats and knowing that you could use it or freeze it. Indeed, freezer pantries are larger than they have been in decades, as people stocked up in spring.

In addition to grocery stock-ups driven by concerns about the supply chain, economic uncertainties are propelling purchases of value-oriented meat and poultry products. In recent months, we’ve seen products that haven’t previously sold in large quantities, like ground turkey, perform well in the retail meat case. According to research from IRI, ground beef sales increased as much as 99.7% and ground turkey by 87.3% at one point in the stock-up phase.

The Market for Enjoyment and Experience

Meals are shifting. People were eating more food away from home five months ago but as they’re sticking close to home, it’s crisscrossed again in what is being called the “accordion effect.” Consumers are cooking, and many are starting to learn how to cook meat and poultry. This is especially true of Millennials, who grew up having a plethora of choices for food and just dabbled in meal preparation. Now, they’re doing that more and asking each other for tips and recipes. A recent survey conducted by Midan Marketing found that Millennials are purchasing 37% more meat compared to the general population and are freezing meat more often for later use.

The Market for Health and Nutrition

As one might expect in a global health crisis, shopper interest in personal health and well-being is strong, according to the 2020 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report, young adults in particular report their eating habits have become healthier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The general focus on health is putting organic, natural and other health-related claims in the spotlight. The Power of Meat 2020 report conducted for FMI and the Foundation for Meat & Poultry Education & Research by 210 Analytics confirms shoppers’ interest in learning more about what they eat and shows that sales of meat with claims rose nearly two percent in 2019.

Even as they are shopping for meat and poultry – and often using e-commerce to do it – younger consumers recall their pre-pandemic interest in plant-based products and may be adding more meat-and-plant protein blends to their freezer and refrigerator pantries. The Power of Meat 2020 found that taste is a big win for blends over purely plant-based alternatives. In general, 81% of consumers describe themselves as meat eaters and 12% identify as flexitarians, according to the research.

Going forward into the rest of this year and into a just-as-uncertain 2021, we expect that current consumer concerns and buying trends centered on value, at-home meal preparation and health and wellness will extend into the near future. At the end of the day, many consumers are carnivores at heart, once again showing the staying power of meat.

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