Economy changes meat shopping habits

by Staff
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DENVER — The recession is being especially felt in the meat department, according to the fourth edition of the Power of Meat — a joint study by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute. Economic woes are affecting where people shop for meat as well as the kind of cut, brand and quantity purchased.

The report detailed the findings of a national on-line poll of 1,059 consumers conducted in November 2008. The study was released March 9 at the 2009 Annual Meat Conference in Denver.

Shoppers are eating out less and cooking more and they also are trading down, substituting and eliminating, according to the study. Spending has remained roughly the same at $91 per week. More than half of the respondents (51%) also have changed their purchasing habits at the meat case. Saving money on meat purchases included greater preparation before going to the store and a longer selection process when in the store.

Approximately 71% of shoppers said they read the grocery flyers looking for meat and poultry deals more often and more carefully than a year ago. Sixty-nine per cent said they stock up on meat when it is on sale and 67% purchased less expensive cuts either frequently or every time they shop.

Full-service supermarkets remained the most popular venue for buying meat among 66% of the respondents; however, this was down from previous years. More shoppers are now going to warehouse club stores, especially shoppers with higher incomes.

Supermarkets continued to have high retention rates in the meat department, with 88% of supermarket patrons also purchasing their meat and poultry there. Supercenters, on the other hand, continued to lose business in the meat aisles with 40% of their patrons purchasing meat and poultry elsewhere.

Once shoppers have selected a store, 87% compared the prices of different cuts and types of meat before making their final decision. The total package price is growing more important compared with the price per lb.

Meat sales promotions greatly influenced the type of meat purchased as well as the quantity. Up by 7% from 2007, 58% of shoppers bought meat in large quantities to portion up, freeze and use over time. They also are less brand-sensitive, both for fresh and processed meat, in their quest to save money. Shoppers preferring national brand processed meats, for example, dropped to 29% in 2009 from 37% in 2008.

Saving measures differed vastly by demographic. Younger shoppers were more likely to stock up on meat specials and buy cheaper cuts; bigger households were more likely to engage in all meat-saving behaviors, especially stocking up or trading down; and lower-income households were less likely to stock up on meat sales and more likely to trade down, the study revealed.

The growth of case-ready (prepackaged) meat sales continued with a median of 85% of total packages bought from the self-service meat-case area. Thirty per cent purchased exclusively from the meat case without ever using the assistance of the full-service counter.

Meat continued to be a staple at American dinner tables, despite the economic difficulties. According to the study, the average family has five dinners at home per week, with an average of 3.9 of these meals including a meat item, down from 4.2 last year. Chicken and beef were the top meat choices.

Health and well-being were still highly valued and food played a major role, this year’s study found. Almost two-thirds of shoppers put some (46%) or a lot (20%) of effort into eating healthfully, but the rate of success was much lower. Despite best intentions to eat better, 51% said they succeed in doing so less than half the time. In fact, 13% said they never manage to eat a healthy diet.

As part of shoppers’ healthy-eating strategies, they most likely will cut back on portion sizes or second helpings, followed by eating fish or seafood more regularly. Some shoppers also are skipping meat (15%) or finding options with lower cholesterol (22%) on a regular basis. As for ingredients, shoppers’ focus is back to fat, calories, saturated fat and sodium.

Eighteen per cent of shoppers stated they have purchased organic and/or natural meats in the past three months, down just 1% from last year.

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