Claims-based meat, poultry sales grow 32% during COVID-19

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, claims-based meat availability was spotty at times, which affected purchase ability. However, antibiotic-related claims, organic and grass-fed claims saw unprecedented growth rates.

During the March through July pandemic period, claims-based meat gained 31.9% in dollars (IRI).
During the March through July pandemic period, claims-based meat gained 31.9% in dollars (IRI).

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, claims-based meat availability was spotty at times, which affected purchase ability. However, antibiotic-related claims, organic and grass-fed claims saw unprecedented growth rates.

During the March through July pandemic period, claims-based meat gained 31.9% in dollars. The highest gains were reserved for grass-fed beef, at +64.3%. Beef also led growth percentages in organic, +57.9% and antibiotic-related claims, at +60.6%. Chicken, which lost some market share amid the pandemic, also saw some softness in antibiotic-free claim sales, which led to a drop in share. 

Changes in retail stocking up

Following the two massive stock-up weeks in mid-March, trip frequency fell while the basket size rose. Even though spending has been highly elevated, trips remained right around last year’s levels for the subsequent five months as shoppers focused on one trip, one store for their weekly needs.

Wave 17 of the IRI COVID-19 shopper impact survey, conducted between August 7 and 9, reveals there are finally some signs of easing for the stock-up trip behavior. Down from 41% in early July, 34% of shoppers say they remain focused on making fewer, larger groceries trips to minimize in-store visits. And down from 30%, now only 25% are stocking up on pantry staples/essentials more than usual. These changes go hand-in-hand with concerns over COVID-19 easing a bit, although 57% of the population remain extremely concerned down from a high of 60% in late June. New COVID-19 cases are moderating in most parts of the country.

Meanwhile, more districts have firmed up back-to-school plans. The percentage of parents who say their children will follow online, at-home education reached yet another high during wave 17 of the IRI survey. Nearly 60% of parents with children ages six to 12 reported their children will follow at-home education only, with an additional 17% reporting the kids will follow a hybrid online and in-person format. Among parents with students ages 13 to 17, 52% reported their children will partake in virtual education only, with an additional 20% in the hybrid system. This is likely to affect trend lines of items popular for the breakfast, snack and lunch occasions.

The net effect of these negative and positive forces resulted in continued high everyday demand for the meat department the third full week of August. This was the seventh of eight non-holiday weeks between Independence Day and Labor Day. Total meat sales reached its 24th week of double-digit dollar gains during the week ending August 23, at +16.2% — virtually unchanged from the week prior. With prices continuing to drop in favor of the consumer, volume sales increased 7.9% over last year’s levels. At an average of $3.80 per volume across all meats during the week of August 23, prices dropped 1.4% versus the week prior. Fresh meat prices dropped even more, at -1.8% versus a slight increase of +0.2% for processed meats.

So far during the pandemic, starting March 15 through August 23, dollar sales are up 31.7% and volume sales have increased 19.1% versus the same period last year. This translates into an additional $8.6 billion in meat department sales during the pandemic, which includes an additional $4.0 billion for beef, $1.2 billion for chicken and $893 million for pork. The week of August 23rd had 15.5 million more transactions compared to same week year ago and 898 million more transactions year-over-year since the pandemic began. Transactions have been on an uptick the last two weeks as promotions increase with prices far more attractive than those seen in the past few months.  

What’s next?

The week of August 23rd was the next to last in a series of eight weeks where everyday demand is responsible for pushing sales above last year’s levels. Labor Day is typically a big at-home holiday already and may not see the types of gains seen for Mother’s Day or Father’s day. However, prices are a lot more favorable than those seen during Independence Day and Memorial Day, which may help fuel volume demand. Restaurant transactions continue to recover but remain below last year’s levels.

Both consumer concern and economic pressure remain high, but stable for the moment. Aided by the effect of virtual schooling, meat sales are likely to hold well above 2019 levels for the foreseeable future.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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