FOR the first time in several years, consumers are indicating a shift away from their focus on lower prices and concentrating more on value, quality and variety when shopping for meat and poultry products, according to the ninth annual "Power of Meat" survey published by the American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute.
The higher percentage of shoppers spending more at the meat counter and a slight comeback in home-cooked meals in 2014 compared to previous years could be the first indication of a return to the pre-recession "normal."
Since 2009, as a result of the recession, more than half of shoppers made significant changes in their meat and poultry purchases (Figure). Now, 36% plan to spend more on meat and poultry this year than last year, compared to only a 9% change the year before. The increase is a reflection of consumers easing up on the money-saving measures that they applied during the recession.
The report notes that although price is still the number-one factor in the meat and poultry decision-making process, its dominance is starting to diminish at the same time knowledge, convenience and nutrition are growing in importance.
The amount of meat or poultry bought is influenced more by recipe and cooking instructions, but nutritional information has a larger impact on what type of animal protein was purchased.
Based on the 2014 survey findings, roughly 3.8 out of 5.0 weekly home-cooked dinners included a portion of meat or poultry, up slightly from the response in 2013 but down from an average of 4.1 over the prior six years.
Nevertheless, meals with good flavors that can be fixed easily propelled change in the type of meals served at the American dinner table, with more one-pot meals, pasta, casseroles and ethnic dishes prepared in slow cookers, ovens and microwaves.
One area of opportunity for the animal protein market is the ready-to-eat meat and poultry category, which is increasingly popular among shoppers for offering value and convenience in one package.
Similarly, purchases of value-added meat and poultry products that offer shoppers some level of preparation — e.g., kabob, breaded, pre-seasoned and pre-cubed meats — are increasing, especially among higher-income and young shoppers.
In addition, value cuts are answering consumer demand by offering bolder flavors at the right price.
Healthy eating is still on the minds of grocery shoppers, and cutting the amount of fat in the diet is not limited to processed meat. Choosing lean cuts of meat and poultry, along with limiting portion sizes, is reflected in food purchases among those concerned with consuming a healthier diet.
Nevertheless, healthy eating strategies differ across gender, age and household income.
Women tend to center on portion control and cutting out a second helping during a meal. In addition, women are more willing to substitute meat and poultry with seafood or non-meat alternatives.
According to the report, shoppers 24 years old and younger are not as concerned with healthy or nutritional purchases, while shoppers age 65 or older select leaner cuts and low-cholesterol options.
Furthermore, middle- and lower-income shoppers are driven by price and select less-expensive cuts of meat or poultry, while higher-income shoppers put more emphasis on selecting healthy food items, making lean cuts, fish and seafood very popular among higher-income consumers.
An accelerated growth pattern is developing for shoppers seeking natural and/or organic meat and poultry products, with 34% of participants indicating purchasing these products in the last three months, which is up 26% from the previous year.
The reason shoppers cited for purchasing organic and natural meat and poultry is to avoid a certain substance, such as hormones, steroids or antibiotics. Moreover, 38% of shoppers plan to increase natural/organic purchases in the next three months.
The results of the survey indicate that more education correlates with a better understanding of what sustainable and locally sourced meat means.
While three in 10 shoppers show a high interest in sustainable protein sources, 28% of participants did not know what sustainable meat, poultry or seafood meant.
Likewise, more than 42% want locally sourced meat and poultry, but 11% do not know what the term locally sourced means.
Overall, 77% of shoppers purchase a planned meat or poultry item on their shopping list prior to entering the grocery store. Additionally, 43% of shoppers put specific species and cuts on their shopping list based on pre-planning and research conducted before the shopping trip occurs.
Full-service supermarkets are the preferred destination over supercenters for shoppers purchasing animal proteins. Consumers designated quality, better variety available and a full-service counter as the main reasons for shopping at a particular supermarket.