In a recent webcast titled 'What Will Fan the Flames This Grilling Season?,' featured speakers, including Knowledge Exchange economist Brian Earnest and consumer data experts Chris Dubois and Melissa Rodriguez from Circana, joined together to discuss the current outlook for grilling as well as meat supply and spending habits. Rob Fox, research director for Knowledge Exchange, moderated the webcast.

Brian Earnest primarily discussed meat supply and predictions based on Q1. He said that protein production will cool following years of growth, and beef production in particular is declining, which will lead to a tighter supply. Earnest noted that Nebraska winter weather hindered northern gains.

For pork, Earnest sees that production is higher than expected. Similarly, chicken production has been quite high recently. 

He said that wholesale inflation is stronger for beef than pork or chicken, but inflation is cooling for retail. The summary for Earnest’s presentation noted that producers will have to keep adjusting for inflation in the upcoming grilling season.

Chris Dubois said that CPG has been fortunate regarding inflationary impact. Still, he said consumers are shifting away from grocery into value channels, and he advises those working in food to win regarding value.

For price sensitivities, Dubois said consumers are paying attention to fresh meat. He also said that pressure in grocery will lead to more demand in competition and promotions. Despite this increase, Dubois noted that shopper responses to promotions are declining as consumers are stretched with their dollars.

As consumers are seeing ongoing tensions with their dollars, Melissa Rodriguez noted that consumers want to save money, which can lead to them making tradeoffs or trade downs. Though consumers are purchasing less, Rodriguez stated that these shifts are not dramatic. She noted that almost a quarter of consumers are buying less meat and poultry.

Rodriguez commented that chicken might be holding the meat case up right now, even though poultry price is up. Price has cooled across protein types except for chicken, she said, yet volume is still impacted. 

She also noted that a small portion of beef transitioned to chicken, and chicken did increase a bit in volume. She noted that the volume decrease for beef is due to consumers eating less of it.

Consumers are still buying across proteins, though, and variety is key for fresh meat, Rodriguez said. She noted that the top volume growth for meat varies across different states.

For grilling specifically, Rodriguez said that grilling is expected to grow like it did last summer. Specifically, sausages and franks are more likely to be grilled than other meat types, but she said that will not mean abandonment of other protein types.

Looking at the plant-based category, Rodgriguez said that it is declining yet continued to gain shelf space. Different generations have different purchasing preferences, which is evident in the plant-based category. Rodriguez said that Millennials and Gen Z are the ones driving the market potential for the category. She noted that these generational differences are also clear in the meat case. Plant-based is an addition — not an exclusive — for consumers, she said, as buyers are still shopping for meat.