Grocery Retail Trends: A 2017 study reveals growing interest in beef, chicken, pork

istock_000012714588large (1)Now that global meat prices are dropping, consumers are showing a greater interest in incorporating meat into their diets — especially when they can be assured of its source.

That was a primary message from the 12th annual “Power of Meat” study released earlier this year by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education. The study points to the grocery retail trends of “robust” sales volume increases in meat last year and recommends retailers work harder to provide consumers information about the grades, handling practices, prices and convenience of their products to keep the trend growing.

“Consumers are looking for the story of meat, and special attributes are seeing growing shopper uptake and sales,” the authors advise. “Shoppers increasingly seek transparency into meat/poultry ingredients and production practices, fueling double-digit growth for organic, antibiotic/hormone-free, grass-fed and other special attributes. Shoppers report high interest in expanded assortment of all these items as well as claims relative to better treatment of the animal/environment.”

Perhaps of most significance to grocers is the study’s finding that most shoppers concerned about such issues are relatively unaffected by price premiums. The exception is those concerned about natural meats.

Americans reduced their meat consumption between 2007 and 2014, cutting their beef purchases 19 percent between 2005 and 2014 and reducing their chicken and pork consumption in lesser amounts. Those cutting back on beef cited the expense (37 percent), the purchase of alternate proteins including chicken and tofu (35 percent), and concerns about cholesterol and saturated fats (25 percent), while National Cattlemen’s Beef Association attributes the drop to a reduced supply due to an increase in American exports.

However, the trend began to reverse in 2015. Per capita consumption of all meats in the U.S. rose to the highest levels in the previous four decades — to roughly 193 pounds annually, or 3.7 pounds a week.

At this point, the FMI study foresees a resurgence in sales of meat and poultry — particularly among high-income, convenience-seeking shoppers — as long as vendors are willing to actively address quality and freshness perceptions. “Uptake is growing among the core user group, but price, quality and freshness perceptions stand in the way of wider adoption,” it advises. “Better communication about grade, handling and prices commensurate with the level of convenience may help accelerate growth.”

Other key points of the study:

  • Since meat tends to be a planned purchase, retailers should maintain print ads featuring photos and attractive pricing and digital/mobile/social media outreach in addition to regular in-store promotions.
  • Price per pound is key to all generations, but millennials are also attracted to total package price and favorable time and ease of preparation.
  • Today’s shopper equates brand names with quality in fresh and processed meat/poultry, whether the brand comes from a national manufacturer, small/regional manufacturer or store brands.
  • Shoppers value personal assistance and on-pack information when buying meat, such that a curated meat selection and on-staff expert meat concierge may drive store sales. That said, 89 percent of respondents said such a staffer could be difficult to find.
  • Shoppers are seeking variety in the meats they serve, yet “Buying unfamiliar meat/poultry items has a much higher trial barrier than other new food experiences.” More consumer education, customer service, help with recipes and/or in-store sampling might help.
  • Shoppers increasingly appreciate total meal solutions such as ready-to-prepare meal kits that feature meat.
  • Meat as a protein source is not being as heavily promoted by the industry now that three quarters of shoppers use meat alternatives in meals at least once a week.

Despite the purposed drawbacks of eating meat proclaimed by environmentalists, animal activists and some health practitioners, the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward the American carnivore population. That’s good news for the U.S. meat and poultry industry, which even in 2013 was generating $864.2 billion annually to the U.S. economy — roughly 6 percent of the entire GDP.

Marta Zaraska, author of the book “Meathooked,” points out that’s greater than the GDP of several entire nations. “We really are hooked on meat,” she told the Huffington Post.