Meat Industry Predictions for 2021

Meat Trends in 2020: What Retailers Should Know Going into 2021

Feb 2, 2021

“If 2020 was about [grocers] quickly responding to a public health disaster, the theme for 2021 promises to be strategically managing their gains for long-term growth,” assert writers at The Grocery Dive, based on industry research. “Instead of retooling their supply chains to keep pace with record demand, retailers will focus more on merchandising and securing customer loyalty.”

Grocery Dive provides a refreshing take on the state of the grocery industry going into 2021. After facing no shortage of challenges in 2020, retailers can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and the ability to focus on growing their stores and customer base.

One central area to consider? The meat department. While retailers saw fluctuations in demand for some products, The Mid-Year Power of Meat 2020 report and IRI research[1] shows that consumers consistently gravitated to the meat case. As a result, meat department sales came in higher year over year throughout the pandemic. The consistent demand for meat provides a critical opportunity for boosting sales and driving customer loyalty.

Here’s a breakdown of 2020’s biggest trends in meat consumption and how to position your store for growth based on them.

Meat and Poultry Sales Grew in All Categories

Going into January 2020[2], despite heightened interest in plant-based meat substitutes, meat sales from 2019 were promising, poising the industry for growth. As much of the interest in plant-based products stemmed from ethical and environmental concerns, meat producers with commitments to animal welfare and minimizing environmental impact reached consumers who enjoy eating meat but want transparency about raising practices. Additionally, consumers have more significant concerns about health[3], meaning industry experts predicted success for individually-portioned products with clear nutritional benefits on the packaging.

Early into the pandemic, meat and poultry sales showed few signs of slowing, with demand for ground beef exceptionally high. At its highest, meat department growth sat at 52.3%. Following March of 2020, dollar and volume growth dipped, but we still saw higher numbers every month for the remainder of the year compared to 2020.

Here’s a closer look:

meat department sales comparison chart

At the end of the year, meat department sales were up 12.9% compared to 2019, excluding online-only and delivery sales.

So, what’d all these numbers add up to in the end?

Meat and poultry finished strong in 2020, with overall meat dollar sales up 18.4%. Volume sales also grew, coming in at 10.3% compared to 2019. In the end, these numbers translate to $12.7 billion more in meat department sales (numbers include beef, chicken, and pork) than in 2019.

But, Beef Reigned Supreme

In the first week of the pandemic, as consumers panic-bought items for cooking meals at home, FMI vice president Rick Stein shares, “[they] did not discriminate over the type of meat, [loading] beef, chicken, pork, fresh, frozen or processed … into shopping carts.” Eventually, however, consumers shifted their focus to beef, with beef generating 61% of new fresh meat dollars between March 15 and July 26, 2020, according to the mid-year Power of Meat study.

In 2020, overall meat dollar sales increased 18.4% and volume sales grew 10.3% versus the same period last year. This translates into an additional $12.7 billion in meat department sales during the pandemic, which includes an astounding additional $5.7 billion for beef, $1.6 billion for chicken and $1.1 billion for pork than during the same period in 2019. (emphasis added, National Provisioner)

At the end of 2020, total fresh beef sales came in at $30.2 billion (up $5.7 billion from 2019). Fresh chicken came in second at $13.4 billion ($1.6 billion higher than 2019) and pork third at $7.2 billion (up $1.1 billion).[4] According to IRI, beef added three times more dollar sales to stores than any category, remaining a top dollar-generator throughout the pandemic. These changes are likely driven by consumers continuing to eat more meals at home, which 7 out of 10 consumers say they will continue doing beyond the pandemic.

Reasons for purchasing different meat

Source: Midyear Power of Meat study

While ground beef has performed well due to its versatility, consumers are also showing interest in trying new beef cuts.[5] For example, beef ribeye sales grew $80 million over Thanksgiving as consumers experimented with different dishes for smaller holiday gatherings. According to IRI, “even before Thanksgiving, shoppers were putting new and different cuts in their baskets,” with ribeye, top sirloin, and brisket as top contenders. Despite lack of confidence in preparing different beef cuts at the start of 2020, as consumers cooked more meals at home and sought to create restaurant-worthy meals, confidence became less of a barrier to trying other products.

Shoppers Gravitated Toward Specialty Meats

Shoppers continue to purchase specialty meats at higher rates due to heightened attention to health and wellness and meat raising practices. In an initial explosion of growth in February, specialty beef accounted for 50.15% of beef dollar shares,[6] and total claims-based meat sales grew by nearly 32% during the pandemic period. Categories seeing the most interest are No Antibiotics Ever, Free Range, and products with animal welfare claims.

Beef claims growth chart

Source: Understanding the Fresh Market, IRI

Now, as uncertainty remains on the length of the pandemic and consumers continue to prioritize health and wellness, we can expect interest in specialty beef items to remain strong. Learn more about the rising demand of specialty beef products or contact us to learn more about providing your customers with beef they can trust.

How Retailers Can Get Ahead

 2020 gave us a lot of insight into consumer behaviors, preferences, and priorities. As panic-buying slowed, we saw shoppers become more selective in the products they purchased. We also saw a willingness to try new things, whether specific meat cuts, recipes, or meal kits. If you’re a retailer, now is the time to leverage these insights to attract new customers and show existing shoppers that you’ve noticed their preferences and are responding to them.

Where do you start? Experts predict that meal kits and value-added options will gain traction given the continued trend of cooking at home. So, you’ll want to consider adding these items in your store, but also in ways that will set you apart, such as using unique beef cuts and sides or offering specialty items as part of a meal kit. Further, arming your customers with exclusive recipes and meal preparation tips in-store and on your social channels can position you as a trusted resource and boost sales across departments.

Want more tips and industry insights? Follow us on our blog for retailer and foodservice partners, or get in touch with us today.


[1] IRI, Integrated Fresh, Total US, MULO

[2] Power of Meat Study, 2020

[3] Power of Meat Study, 2020

[4] “Meat department closes out 2020 18.4% above 2019 levels,” National Provisioner, 2021.

[5] “Understanding the Fresh Market,” IRI, 2020.

[6] IRI, Integrated Fresh, Total US, MULO