By: Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh Foods, FMI

Meat grilling at partyThe dishes may be all cleaned and put away, but recently shared Thanksgiving meals serve as a reminder that meat remains a center-of-the-plate food. As the holidays approach and even as New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier follow those festivities, protein remains at the top of many shopping lists and dinner tables. 

Meat has been a dietary staple since, well, the first hunters balanced out what the gatherers brought home. Today, consumers choose animal-based proteins, including traditional red meats and poultry as well as specialty meats and meat alternative blends, for a multitude of reasons, including the perennial quest for nutrition and taste.

The Power of Meat 2023 report underscored the central role of meat in Americans’ diets – and in U.S. grocery stores. According to that report, meat is the most powerful of retail fresh departments, with a whopping 98.3% household penetration and $87.1 billion in sales. Data also supports the notion that a strong meat department reputation drives traffic for the entire store.

The prominence of meat in everyday meals and retail shopping carts continues even during a time of sticky inflation. Consumers may be trading down or across cuts of meat, but, by and large, have not cut it out.

The key to sustaining the nearly-universal household penetration for meat – and to keep sales at grocery stores as omnichannel competition heats up -- is to provide solutions for shoppers who are adding value to their list of priorities alongside health, satiety, variety and eating experience.  As shoppers have grown savvier and choosier in recent years, it’s not just about touting ground beef and chicken drumsticks, either. Some supermarkets have found success by offering smaller portions and pack sizes. Others have met market demands by educating shoppers on the benefits – and importantly, easy preparation methods – of underutilized cuts. Whether creating a TikTok with a store butcher on how to braise beef chuck roast or slow cook a pork shoulder or providing QR codes or recipe cards at the point of sale, retailers can open up new avenues for growth and give consumers more choices for proteins that meet their preferences and budget.

Assortment variety is pivotal in keeping meat on the menu and creating excitement in those categories. While many shoppers are eyeing price, they are also considering the value of time and seek out convenient value-added products that are still faster and cheaper than dining out at a restaurant. There’s a place for premium, too, as customers balance purchases at the retail meat case and at the service counter. After all, the same consumer can splurge some days and scrimp on others.

What will the rapidly approaching new year bring, in terms of macro market circumstances and consumer behaviors?  FMI in partnership with the North American Meat Institute and Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics, are compiling the latest statistics and analyzing trends to be shared in the highly anticipated Power of Meat 2024 report that will serve as a guidebook for retailers as they find innovative ways to entice and engage shoppers in the meat department. The report will be unveiled at the Annual Meat Conference, held March 18-20 at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. In addition to getting a first look at and deep dive into the all-important research and analysis, AMC attendees can gain insights on how to stay competitive in a powerful, dynamic sector through a series of sessions led by industry leaders. Topics include hot-button issues such as labor optimization, the use of AI in the meat and retail industries, packaging innovations, the changing face of today’s consumers and more.

To learn more about and register for AMC visit Early bird rates end on Jan. 10.

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