By: Steve Markenson, Director, Research, FMI


For everyone, 2020 has been quite a year and for the meat department that has been particularly true. Many have used the word “unprecedented” to describe the tumult that the COVID-19 pandemic has put us through. The past six months has been so “unprecedented” that FMI and the Foundation for Meat & Poultry Education & Research decided to break our trend of annual reports to conduct a The Power of Meat: Midyear 2020 Edition to take a fresh look at what was happening in the meat industry from the shopper’s perspective. In this tumultuous year, it should not be a surprise that what we found was a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

The Ups: Shopper Behavior

As the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, shoppers quickly jumped into action stocking up on all types of food products. Meat was no exception as meat department sales almost doubled in the first week of the pandemic (compared to the same week in 2019). In that first week and since, the type of meat did not always matter. Beef, chicken, pork, fresh, frozen, or processed, shoppers were stocking up on it all. While many were focused on filling their refrigerators and freezers with their purchases, consumers were also cooking more meals as home prepared meals with meat specifically increased to 4.6 per week (from 3.9 last year). Consumers were trying new recipes and experimenting with different types and cuts of meat.   

The Twists: Supply  

This sudden surge in demand and the impact of COVID-19 on meat suppliers resulted in a significant tightening of supply and some resulting meat inflation. FMI’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Trackers discovered that shoppers found many products out of stock as the impact of the pandemic caused supply chain issues. The impact was particularly profound in the meat department as 91% of shoppers experienced out-of-stocks. As a result, most shoppers (75%) made changes to their meat buying habits in the early months of the pandemic, buying more and/or different types of meat. However, there may be a silver lining here as many shoppers have now been exposed to different meat products, have been experimenting, and say they are more knowledgeable and confident about meat.

The Turns: Consumer Opinion

Through all the turmoil, the meat department has persevered. Many consumers say the meat department has done a good job keeping product in supply during the pandemic, ensuring employee safety and maintaining food safety. As we move forward, shoppers are putting more effort in choosing healthy and nutritious options and with meat there is no exception. Most shoppers (75%) continue to see meat as a good source of protein and nutrients. In addition, many continue to believe meat belongs in a balanced diet.

For more about what we learned, download The Power of Meat: Midyear 2020 Edition and also consider joining us at the Annual Meat Conference in March.