Poll Shows Increasing Concern Over Meat Prices

April 14, 2008
Economic factors lead to more meals at home … and more purchases of meat.

Top Selling Meat Flavors - 2007

Asian 10.2%
Ethnic 6.8
Hispanic 6.8
Natural 6.8
Fusion 5.1
Latin 5.1
Mediterranean 5.1
Smoky 5.1
Thai 5.1

Consumers are eating more home-cooked meals, but are increasingly concerned over the cost of meat, according to “The Power of Meat – An In-Depth Look at Meat Through the Shoppers’ Eyes,” a national online poll conducted in November 2007.

The poll of 1,147 consumers was sponsored by Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging Div. and published by the American Meat Institute (AMI ) and the Food Marketing Institute. Released at the 2008 AMI conference in March, the report found high energy costs, the credit crunch, weak housing market and recessionary climate are the reasons consumers say they are changing how and where they shop and dine.

Meat continues to be a staple at American dinner tables. According to the study, the average family has five dinners at home per week, with an average of 4.2 of these meals including a meat item. Chicken and beef are the top meat choices, with more than 80 percent eating those proteins at least once an week and more than 34 percent eating chicken and beef at least three times a week.

Supermarkets remain the top outlet for meat, according to 90.5 percent of shoppers, and 70 percent report all of their meat purchases were selected from the self-service counter.

The study found 30 percent of shoppers would increase meat case purchases even more if the packaging were leakproof. “The case-ready product share increased in 2007 to 64 percent of fresh meat packages,” says Jerry Kelly, national retail account manager for Sealed Air/Cryovac. “The formats that lead the increase are vacuum and MA P packaging, up 3 and 4 percentage points respectively.”

Consumers ranked price as the most important factor when selecting meat – averaging 4.6 on a scale from 1 to 6. That’s a higher ranking than it got in 2006 and 2007. The vast majority compares meat prices before selection and purchase. But once in the store, more than half of consumers seek the best value among different cuts and types of meat. Other features important to consumers include product appearance (4.3); package size/total package price (3.8); nutritional content (3.4); knowledge of how to prepare (3.0); and preparation time required (2.8).

Energy costs are having an increasing impact on shoppers’ disposable income. “Large numbers of shoppers already have made changes, ranging from eating out less, purchasing less expensive products while in the store and even switching primary stores,” the report notes. That may account for the drop in meat buying at supercenters, down from 24.9 percent to 20 percent, while purchases at club stores rose from 2.7 percent to 5.7 percent.

Despite price concerns, more than onefifth of respondents now purchase natural and organic meat. But shoppers seek reasonable pricing of those products, with more than 80 percent saying organic meat and poultry is more expensive either by a lot (32.8 percent) or a little (50.8 percent). Of those surveyed, 73 percent of occasional organic shoppers would purchase more if prices were lower, up from 63 percent in 2007.

Why do they choose natural/organic meats? Top reasons include: positive long-term personal health effects; better nutritional value; and better treatment of the animal. The most frequently purchased natural/organic meats are chicken (73 percent) and beef (49 percent).

Respondents also offered suggestions. Many say better quality and more variety would prompt an increase in meat purchases. Others suggest retailers offer more information on where the meat is produced, the nutritional content of fresh meat, more information about the taste of the cuts and types of meat, and reduced package sizes.