Although meat consumption in the U.S. has been on the decline for nearly a decade, the market continues to post growth in overall dollar sales. And that consumption decline is only relative—per capita meat consumption in the U.S. ranks second globally, and weighs in at nearly three times the global average.
According to Meat and Poultry Trends in the U.S., a recent report from Packaged Facts, retail sales of meat and poultry products topped $85 billion in 2012, up from nearly $73 billion in 2008. Looking ahead, sales are projected to reach $98 billion by 2017. Supporting that growth will be an economic recovery that, while painfully slow in gaining momentum, is clearly underway and likely to pick up steam with each passing year.
Several factors account for a decline in meat consumption, but two in particular stand out, according to Packaged Facts. The first involves consumer health concerns, based on a public perception that a high level of red meat consumption is unhealthy. The other main factor is the economy, specifically the recession that began in 2008 and continues to crimp the economy in 2013. As a result, consumers have been eliminating meat from one or more meals per week and reducing the size of portions served. Commenting on the background research for the study, David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts, notes that “our survey data show that 12% of U.S. adults strongly agree and 19% somewhat agree that they are eating many meatless/vegetarian meals.”
Health concerns and economic considerations are also driving a switch by many consumers from red meat to poultry as a source of animal protein. Economic considerations have similarly motivated consumers to switch to less expensive meat or poultry cuts, or to store-brand meat case products. At the same time, in keeping with larger grocery shopping patterns, consumers are aggressively seeking out price discounts and product sales.
But even as meat consumption per capita has notched downward, overall dollar sales have increased, thanks to population gains as well as the growing array of value-added products entering the marketing mix. These are often convenience products targeted to an overworked population, as well as to younger consumers who may lack cooking experience or skills. Also bolstering total dollar sales are high-end fresh meat cuts, including natural/organic offerings, that appeal to more affluent consumers and those who have recovered from the economic recession more quickly than the population as a whole.