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MDM: Meat demand across the board weaker than a year ago

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Consumers less willing to pay for four evaluated retail products, including ribeye steak, ground beef and bacon.

Consumers have tightened their belts when it comes to what they are willing to pay for in meat, both in the retail sector and in food service. According to Glynn Tonsor, the latest Meat Demand Monitor not only shows a dip in domestic demand over last month, but for all examined retail products and food service dinner meals in December of 2022 compared to December of 2021.

With the last four months of MDM surveys reporting neutral to declining domestic retail demand, and now taking in current consumer finances, the professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University, says the December results are not too surprising.

"The last few months of 2022 included month-over-month declines in meat demand and several instances of declines from strong demand levels in 2021," Tonsor says. "I anticipate that will continue until consumer optimism improves which likely is in part tied to inflation outpacing wage growth for many residents."

Launched in February 2020, the MDM project is funded in-part by Beef Checkoff and Pork Checkoff and tracks U.S. consumer preferences, views and demand for meat with separate analysis for retail and food service channels. The monthly survey is conducted online with more than 2,000 respondents reflecting the national population.

This month's MDM showed consumers are less willing to pay for four evaluated retail products, including ribeye steak, ground beef and bacon, compared to November.

According to Tonsor, bacon is not the only breakfast meat to be down in consumer demand, over the last month and year.

"Examining December 2022 versus December 2021 estimates on at-home meal inclusion of pork (ham, chops, sausage and many other products including bacon) we see that breakfast meals including pork were down, 15% in December 22 versus 19% in December 21," says Tonsor.

The December survey also tracked ribeye steak, hamburger, pork chops, baby back ribs and chicken breasts, as well as fish and plant-based protein for meals away from home and the willingness-to-pay was down for all categories in December compared to November.

The combined beef and pork projected market shares for December are 31% and 22% respectively at the grocery store, and 38% and 15% at the restaurant.

The December MDM also sheds light on poultry demand, particularly on chicken breast.

"Demand for chicken breast via retail channel (for at-home consumption) and via food service (dinner meal entree at restaurant specifically) was down in December 22 versus December 21," Tonsor says. "Retail was flat with November 22 and food service was down from November 22."

As for protein values and issue awareness, taste, freshness, price and safety continued to be most important factors for consumers when purchasing protein. However, survey results showed animal welfare weighing on consumer minds the most since November.

Plant-based proteins and high protein diets remain topics heard or read most about, according to the survey results. In December, 70% of respondents self-declared as regular consumers of products derived from animal products, 11% indicated they are flexitarian/semi-vegetarian, and a combined 13% indicated they are either vegan or vegetarian. 

This month the MDM also posed a pair of questions to respondents about financial sentiment. One question asked respondents how their current financial situation compared to one year ago (better now, same or worse now) and a second question asked respondents to look ahead and share how they think their financial situation will compare one year from now (will be better off, same or will be worse off). 

The majority responded that they ended 2022 worse financially than last year and were even more pessimistic regarding future finances going into 2023 compared to December 2020 in the middle of the pandemic.

"The punchline here is consumers ended December 2022 expecting their household finances to deteriorate in 2023," Tonsor says. "Given sensitivity of meat demand to consumer incomes (and willingness/ability to spend money more generally) this indeed is a concerning observation as 2023 starts."

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