Grandmother with grandson in the kitchen preparing roast meat on sunday.
Grandmother with grandson in the kitchen preparing roast meat on sunday.

Almost all American households (98.5%) buy meat, according to the latest Power of Meat report from FMI — The Food Industry Association and the Meat Institute. Nearly three-fourths of consumers identify as meat-eaters, up from 71% last year, while 16% describe themselves as flexitarians and just 6% are vegans or vegetarians.

Increased at-home cooking, in addition to online grocery shopping and recipe searching, led to a successful year for meat sales — dollar sales inched up 0.3% from 2020 to 2021, reaching $81.8 billion. Although overall volume sales dropped 5.6% compared to 2020, they were up 3.9% compared to 2019, reflecting increases in both fresh (+3.7%) and processed (+4.3%) meats.

Shopping for value amid rising prices

Higher prices have played a role in how much meat and poultry consumers purchase — 75% of consumers have observed a more expensive price tag on meat products. As a result, price per pound and/or total package price are top purchase influencers, alongside product quality and appearance.

Though 43% of consumers report seeing fewer promotions, they frequently look for store specials before their shopping trip (75%), compare prices and promotions for items throughout the store (80%), and take time to search for the perfect package price (89%). They’ve also found other ways to cut costs, including limiting restaurant dining and takeout orders (61%) and eating 80% of their meals at home. More than 70% have changed their retail meat purchases (e.g., switching brands or types of meat).

As a result of supply chain issues, 38% of shoppers report seeing more out of stocks, while 21% notice less variety. Despite these challenges, meat consumers continue to look for more value-added (68%), fully-cooked products (59%), meal kits (64%), and deli-prepared meat variety (67%) on the shelves. 

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Online grocery shopping increased in 2021, with 61% of meat consumers shopping online — that’s up from 39% in 2019.

Almost half of meat buyers regularly shop online, and 35% have purchased at least some of their meat and poultry products online. Online grocery purchases are more common in younger generations — 79% of Gen Z consumers shop online for the same meat and poultry products they buy in stores, compared to only 38% of Boomers.

Whether or not they purchase meat online, many use search engines (72%) and YouTube (57%) to find meat prep tips and recipes. And more than half of Gen Z shoppers use TikTok for this purpose.

Personal, environmental health guides shopping trends

Most meat buyers (86%) also seek out products that are better for their households, workers, animals, and/or the environment.

Even though the majority of Americans (73%) believe meat is part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, 37% are trying to decrease their consumption of it, averaging four home-cooked meals per week that include a meat or poultry portion. Those hoping to improve the health of their household also commonly look for leaner cuts (40%) and turn down second helpings (33%). 

Consumers who consider the environment in their meat and poultry purchases (32%) often seek out local and grass-fed products, as well as those packaged with environmentally-friendly materials. Meat shoppers influenced by animal welfare concerns (31%) educate themselves via online research, social media, and product packaging.

These health-focused and planet-friendly preferences have generated limited interest in meat alternatives, however. Almost 30% of consumers are open to trying cultivated meat, but 40% are unwilling. In addition, sales of plant-based meat alternatives slowed in 2021, and only 9% of consumers eat such items weekly. Blended products, however, have had much more success in terms of household penetration and preparation frequency.

Although they may switch to other brands or cuts and limit how much they purchase in their search for more value, convenience, and better-for-you benefits, it’s clear that consumers are still making meat a central part of the plate.

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