Three consumer trends are influencing the meat department at retail -- supply chain shortages, increasing consumer comfort with purchasing meat online and retailers’ embrace of multiple channels to connect with shoppers.

Michael Uetz, principal at Midan Marketing, shared this assessment about challenges and opportunities for retail meat sales during the independent grocers NGA Show 2022, Feb. 28 to March 1 in Las Vegas.

Uetz’s presentation at the Feb. 28 workshop session "Evolution of the Meat Case -- Tracking Shopper Trends" looked at how the market for meat and poultry products is feeling the effects of inflation, production and supply chain challenges, and changing consumer preferences.

Shoppers are once again encountering bare shelves, along with equally unwelcome inflation levels that hit 7.5% in January. In the meat case, Midan research finds prices have increased more than 12% in 12 months, with beef steak costing $2.18 more per pound than in January 2020 and pork chops up 65 cents per pound for the same period.

“Nearly all consumers are feeling the effects of inflation at the grocery store, especially the meat case,” Uetz said. “A lot of the adjustments shoppers are making right now have to do with planning their meals around what’s on sale, looking for coupons or shopping for cheaper cuts and kinds of meat.”

According to new data from the Power of Meat 2022 report, 29% of shoppers are looking for less expensive types of meat and poultry, so they may be substituting pork where they’d normally purchase beef. Nearly a third (32%) said they’re purchasing cheaper cuts, like ground beef or chicken thighs.

“Part of dealing with inflation is simply being agile at the meat case and willing to make changes to your menu to fit what’s currently available and on sale,” Uetz said.

 “There is a segment of consumers who are stocking up on meat and poultry that’s on sale and buying bulk packs for extra savings,” Uetz said, adding that these consumers are more likely to be older (49% of baby boomers vs. 20% of Gen Z), higher-income shoppers and in rural areas.

“There is also a growing number of one- and two-person households throughout the country who are counting on individual or smaller package sizes as we deal with the current market conditions,” he said. “And maybe what’s most interesting is that when you look at the group of shoppers stocking up versus those buying only what they need -- the numbers are nearly identical with 38% of shoppers stocking up and 39% of them saving.”

Pre-pandemic skepticism or apprehension about buying meat (and other fresh foods) online has evolved, with up to 70% of consumers purchasing groceries online. Midan Marketing research suggests 57% of shoppers who buy meat have purchased meat online during the pandemic.

“Shopping for groceries online has become a staple for many during the pandemic, and research from our team at Midan Marketing shows almost a quarter of meat consumers will continue purchasing meat online post-pandemic, with most of those sales being with their local grocery store for pickup or delivery,” Uetz said. “Sixty-five percent of shoppers say they research prices across stores before shopping, so having promotions available on all platforms is important for all customers”

Uetz said that throughout the pandemic, consumers have been exposed to fewer promotions on meat and poultry.

“The last thing retailers want is to have a promotion they can’t fulfill with product,” Uetz said, adding that makes it more important for retailers to share the promotions they do have with their customers in-store and online/via apps.