Meat has become even more popular to eat during the pandemic

meat consumption coronavirus pandemic
Photo via Jeremy Bronson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As many people opt for home cooking instead of taking out food or dining in restaurants during the pandemic, sales for meat seem to have hit an all-time high. According to a recent study, there has been a 34.6% increase in meat and poultry sales between March and July of 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier. Although there have been shortages on some grocery items, like yeast and disinfectant wipes, meat consumption has risen.

The mid-year “Power of Meat” study, produced by The Food Industry Association (FMI) and the Foundation for Meat and Poultry Research and Education, reported that, compared to the numbers in 2019, there has been an astounding additional $7.9 billion and 1.4 billion pounds worth of meat sales between March 15-July 26 of 2020. The brief also revealed that beef, in particular, has been yielding higher returns this year, making up 61% of new fresh meat income. About 48% of consumers purchased more meat during the beginning of 2020, indicating a surge in at-home meal preparations during the time of pandemic-related restaurant shutdowns.

“Beef, chicken, pork, fresh, frozen, or processed, shoppers were stocking up on it all,” FMI explained in a blog post about the study. “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.”  

U.S. pork and beef are also reportedly experiencing an uptick in sales internationally, particularly in convenience stores located in residential areas, as people opt for the quick and easy grocery run closer to their homes. “There are over 58,000 convenience stores across Japan, so this continues to be a dominant source for Japanese consumers to buy U.S. meat,” Jesse Austin, the U.S. Meat Export Federation vice president for marketing, explained. “Overall, throughout the pandemic, sales have dropped and traffic has dropped in the convenience store sector. An interesting trend, though, is that the sales have dropped much less than the traffic has dropped indicating that the consumers are spending more per visit.”

More meat consumption hasn’t necessarily helped meat producers

The consumer’s sudden penchant for meat consumption seems to be properly timed, as prices in the U.S. have reportedly returned to normal after it temporarily surged due to poor supply. According to Nielsen, certain products like chicken wings and prime rib are now even cheaper than they were before the coronavirus pandemic began. 

While this bodes well for customers who are suddenly experiencing lower income during the global pandemic, it is clearly hurting meat producers and farmers who were already suffering because of COVID-19-related disruptions. 

With farms clogged with livestock they couldn’t unload during the onset of the virus due to plant shutdowns, meat sellers are now forced to sell premium quality products for much less. According to Nielsen, prime rib steak sold for an average of $7.15 per pound the first week of September, more than 11% lower than it was at the beginning of 2020. Beef-brisket prices are down by a whopping 20%, and New York strip steaks are 8% cheaper than its price in early January.

According to the FMI, people’s knowledge and confidence in meat selection, purchasing, and preparation has improved during the pandemic. About 75% of shoppers altered their meat-buying habits, bought different types of meat products, experimented with different cuts and kinds of meat, and cooked new recipes.

Meat isn’t the only food item having its moment amid the pandemic. As the country’s economy goes through the wringer, more people are also apparently showing an interest in healthier, more affordable meat alternatives. According to the Washington Post, tofu sales jumped up 40% in the first half of 2020 compared to last year, after it went through a shortage at the beginning of the coronavirus shutdowns. Pulmuone Brands—owner of Nasoya, the nation’s leading tofu brand—reportedly shipped an additional 1 million packs of tofu from South Korea to the U.S. over the summer, as production plants in the country tried to catch up with demand.

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Sources: Grocery Dive, Supermarket News, FMI, National Hog Farmer, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

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