Meat Sales Were Way Up in 2020 (with Beef Leading the Charge)

published Mar 31, 2021
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someone is stirring ground beef with a wooden spoon
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

Do you feel like you bought more meat than usual last year? Well, you’re not alone. According to the Food Industry Association’s recent report, The Power of Meat 2021, meat sales reached a record high in 2020. This is directly tied to the pandemic, which resulted in more people cooking at home than ever before. (The report found that home cooking peaked in April of 2020, with 89 percent of those surveyed saying they had been cooking at home.) From 2019 to 2020, grocery meat sales increased 19.2 percent, totaling $82.5 billion.

The report is actually pretty fascinating. Here’s what else we learned from it.

1. Beef saw the highest increase in sales.

According to the report, almost all Americans (98.4 percent of those surveyed) purchased meat in 2020. Beef accounted for the most sales, raking in $5.8 billion. Additionally, almost half of Americans buy more meat now than they did pre-pandemic.

2. Added-value meats were also in high demand.

Consumers also gravitated towards value-added meats such as pre-marinated, pre-cut, or pre-seasoned options. Of those surveyed, 18 percent said they plan to buy more value-added meats in 2021, too.

3. Home cooks got more meat-savvy in the kitchen.

Along with increased at-home cooking, increased cooking prowess is likely responsible for the upward trend in meat purchases as well. As noted in the study, consumers believe their knowledge of cooking meat has improved since March 2020.

4. The supply chain had some hiccups.

This spike in demand for meat in 2020 was further complicated by slowed production (beef by 25 percent and pork by 15 percent) due to the pandemic, which deeply affected worker and meat-packing plant safety. The spread of COVID-19 among meatpacking workers caused a disruption to the supply chain, which led to meat shortages and imposed limits on items in grocery stores.

Back in May, Costco and many other grocery retailers limited the number of fresh poultry, beef, and pork items that each customer could purchase. These limits seem to have largely been lifted now, but it’s likely that the threat of shortages encouraged people to buy more meat when they were able to get their hands on it.

5. Oddly, people are also cutting back on meat.

Interestingly enough, despite the fact that purchases of meat have increased, customers report that they’re cutting back on their meat consumption overall. (The explanation here, is that people bought more meat with plans to use it up, eventually, over time.) The report found that the percentage of customers who identified as “meat eaters” dropped 14 percentage points, and the number of Flexitarians increased from 10 percent to 19 percent in 2020.

How have your meat consumption and purchasing habits changed during the pandemic?