Week ending March 8 saw a fast acceleration of meat sales in dollars, units and volume. As the number of school closures, social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 related measures significantly sharpened the subsequent week, sales surged along with it. Thanks to the heroic efforts of everyone in the meat and poultry industry, the supply kept flowing. Retailers restocked their meat cases again and again as shoppers across the country stocked up on meat and poultry to feed their families nutritious meals.

Meat department sales without deli meat were up an incredible 76.9% over the week ending March 15, 2020 versus the comparable week in 2019, according to data insights firm IRI, and deli meat sales advanced 40.4%. Whether fresh beef, chicken, pork, turkey or lamb, smoked meats or deli meats, shoppers were in the market for it all. Thirteen weeks prior to March 15, IRI found the highest growth for fresh beef, at +3.7% and the lowest for fresh lamb, at +0.1%. Twelve weeks prior, beef growth jumped +9.8% and lamb +4.6%. During the week of March 15, turkey registered the highest growth nearly doubling dollar sales, at +96.1% and lamb increased sales by more than 50% as well. Beef and chicken, by far the largest categories, increased sales by $376 million and $183 million, respectively. 

Volume sales for the week of March 15 were up 68.7%, made possible by processing plants ramping up capacity and distributors diverting supply from foodservice to food retail. Amid the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the country, shoppers’ started preparing for prolonged stays at home, working from home and restaurant closures. At Winn-Dixie, Mike Freeman who grabbed the last few packages of ground beef and moved on to ground turkey and lamb. He said, “normally I don’t freeze any meat and prefer to just buy it fresh every few days. But it can’t hurt to have a little extra.” After asking him if he typically buys ground turkey and lamb, he answered, “no, not really. I’ve tried ground turkey a time or two but I’ve never cooked lamb before. It looks just like ground beef or bison, so how hard can it be. And it’s simply slim pickings.”

Growth Drivers
In absolute dollars, the five biggest winners for the week of March 15 were ground beef (+$179.1 million), chicken breasts (+$89.5 million), pork loin (+$36.9 million), chuck ($36.3 million) and ribeyes (+$31.6 million), according to IRI. The top 10 items were closed out by beef round and short loin, ground turkey, recipe-ready beef and chicken wings.

According to IRI, ground continued to be big, regardless of species, given its versatile and easy-to-prepare nature.

  • Ground beef increased 99.7%
  • Ground turkey, +87.3%
  • Ground chicken, +88.3%
  • Ground pork, +69.9%
  • Ground lamb, +53.2%

A Detailed Look by Area
Sales surged across all proteins and offerings.

IRI Total US |
Multi-outlet channels

$ gains latest 12 weeks ending 3/15/2020

$ gains latest 4 weeks ending 3/15/2020

$ gains latest week ending


Size in $
(weekly sales for 03/15/2020)

Fresh beef





Fresh chicken





Fresh pork





Deli meat





Fresh turkey





Smoked ham





Random weight other meat





Fresh lamb





Smoked pork





Random weight sausage





Smoked turkey





Fresh exotic





Source: IRI, Total US, MULO, weeks ending March 15, 2020

Fresh beef closed in on $900 million in sales for the week of March 15, gaining $376 million over the comparable week in 2019 (+73.1%), according to IRI. Sales had been ramping up from +9.8% over the longer 12-week view to +23.4% over the latest four weeks. Beef volume was up +59.2%. Ground beef, that makes up more than 40% of the beef category, gained big the week of March 15, at +99.7% — adding $179 million in new dollars. Chuck and ribeyes were the second and third largest in terms of absolute dollar gains. Smaller sellers with robust growth were flank/plate (+102.3%), sirloin (+100.2%), ribs (+94.0%) and brisket/shank (+89.1%).

Fresh chicken gained just under $183 million, or +76.5% over the week of March 15, according to IRI. Volume sales accelerated along with it, +72.0%. Generating half of total chicken sales, chicken breasts sold an extra $89.5 million, or +73.5%. Chicken thighs gained more than $20 million (+76.9%) and chicken legs increased more than $12 million, +79.7%.

Fresh pork sales quickly accelerated as well, up 89.2% or $87.9 million for the week ending March 15, 2020, according to IRI. Making up just over 45% of pork sales, pork loin added $36.9 million in new dollars, or +77.2%. Pork ribs were the second-biggest winner in absolute dollars, up $17.6 million or +112.4%, followed by pork shoulder blade, up $12.0 million, or +117.0%. Smoked pork and ham sales, too, increased significantly over the latest week, at +67.6% and +116.7%, respectively.

Deli meat generated more than $155 million in sales the week of March 15, 2020, which was up +40.4% over the comparable week in 2019, according to IRI. Deli turkey increased sales by $16.6 million or +43.9% and deli ham generated an additional $33 million in sales, up +48.0%.

The subsequent week, March 16-22, saw both an increase in the number of school/office/restaurant closures, social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 related measures, and a rising number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. Sales updates will be provided weekly, every Tuesday. Meanwhile, please thank the entire meat and poultry industry, from farm to store for all they do to ensure supply during these unprecedented times. #MeatFeedsFamilies  #SupermarketSuperHeroes

Source: 210 Analytics/IRI