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Meat sales surge amid growing COVID-19 cases

Whether fresh beef, chicken, pork, turkey or lamb, smoked meats or deli meats, shoppers were in the market for it all.

The week ending March 8 saw a fast acceleration of meat sales in dollars, units and volume. As the number of school closures, social distancing guidelines and other measures related to COVID-19 significantly sharpened in the subsequent week, sales surged along with it.

Meat department sales (without deli meat) were up an incredible 76.9% for the week ending March 15, 2020, versus the comparable week in 2019, according to data insights firm IRI, and deli meat sales advanced 40.4%. Whether fresh beef, chicken, pork, turkey or lamb, smoked meats or deli meats, shoppers were in the market for it all. Thirteen weeks prior to March 15, IRI found the highest growth for fresh beef, at 3.7%, and the lowest growth for fresh lamb, at 0.1%. Twelve weeks earlier, beef growth jumped 9.8%, and lamb rose 4.6%. During the week of March 15, turkey registered the highest growth, nearly doubling dollar sales, at 96.1%, and lamb sales increased by more than 50% as well. Beef and chicken, by far the largest categories, increased sales by $376 million and $183 million, respectively.

Volume sales for the week of March 15 were up 68.7%, made possible by processing plants ramping up capacity and distributors diverting supply from foodservice to food retail. Amid the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the country, shoppers’ started preparing for prolonged stays at home, working from home and restaurant closures.

At Winn-Dixie, Mike Freeman, who grabbed the last few packages of ground beef and moved on to ground turkey and lamb, said, “Normally, I don’t freeze any meat and prefer to just buy it fresh every few days, but it can’t hurt to have a little extra.” After asking him if he typically buys ground turkey and lamb, he answered, “No, not really. I’ve tried ground turkey a time or two, but I’ve never cooked lamb before. It looks just like ground beef or bison, so how hard can it be? And it’s simply slim pickings.”

In absolute dollars, the five biggest winners for the week of March 15 were ground beef (up $179.1 million), chicken breasts (up $89.5 million), pork loin (up $36.9 million), chuck (up $36.3 million) and rib-eyes (up $31.6 million), according to IRI. The top 10 items were closed out by beef round and short loin, ground turkey, recipe-ready beef and chicken wings.

According to IRI, ground meat and poultry continued to be big, regardless of species, given its versatile and easy-to-prepare nature. Ground beef sales increased by 99.7%, ground turkey by 87.3%, ground chicken by 88.3%, ground pork by 69.9% and ground lamb by 53.2%.

However, the data showed that sales surged across all proteins and offerings.

Fresh chicken gained just under $183 million, up 76.5% from the week of March 15, according to IRI. Volume sales accelerated along with it, up 72.0%. Generating half of total chicken sales, chicken breasts sold an extra $89.5 million, or 73.5%. Chicken thighs gained more than $20 million, up 76.9%, and chicken legs increased more than $12 million, up 79.7%.

Fresh beef closed in on $900 million in sales for the week of March 15, gaining $376 million over the comparable week in 2019 (up 73.1%), according to IRI. Sales had been ramping up from 9.8% over the longer 12-week view to 23.4% over the latest four weeks. Beef volume was up 59.2%. Ground beef, which makes up more than 40% of the beef category, gained big the week of March 15, at 99.7%, adding $179 million in new dollars. Chuck and rib-eyes were the second and third largest in terms of absolute dollar gains. Smaller sellers with robust growth were flank/plate (up 102.3%), sirloin (up 100.2%), ribs (up 94.0%) and brisket/shank (up 9.1%).

Fresh pork sales quickly accelerated as well, up 89.2%, or $87.9 million, for the week ending March 15, according to IRI. Making up just over 45% of pork sales, pork loin added $36.9 million in new dollars, or 77.2%. Pork ribs were the second-biggest winner in absolute dollars, up $17.6 million, or 112.4%, followed by pork shoulder blade, up $12.0 million, or 117.0%. Smoked pork and ham sales increased significantly over the latest week, too, rising 67.6% and 116.7%, respectively.

Deli meat generated more than $155 million in sales the week of March 15, which was up 40.4% over the comparable week in 2019, according to IRI. Deli turkey increased sales by $16.6 million, or 43.9%, and deli ham generated an additional $33 million in sales, up 48.0%.

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