According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average U.S. consumer will eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018, a record high, Bloomberg reported. Livestock producers are expanding herds due to cheap feed grain, and domestic production is expected to also hit an all-time high this year.
Demand and prices have both increased, and meat exports are up, Bloomberg noted. This is a big change from 2007 to 2014, when demand dropped 9% due to periods of drought and rising ethanol prices.
Americans are turning more often to protein sources such as beef and chicken, and per-capita consumption has jumped. The government suggests eating 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein each day, but the wire service said that USDA predicts the average consumer will eat nearly 10 ounces of meat and poultry alone every day this year.
Increased meat and poultry consumption is a continuation of an ongoing trend. In 2016, according to the Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group, meat consumption posted its largest increase in 40 years.
Consumers claim they want to eat healthier and are more environmentally conscious, but for many, their feelings are not strong enough that they are willing to give up or significantly curtail their meat consumption. However, the concern about health and sustainability could lead to growth in grass-fed, organic meat production and higher sales for companies that market improved animal welfare practices.
A study by Midan Marketing revealed millennials represent the largest generation of meat buyers, shelling out $75.4 million during 2016, Beef Magazine reported. Prices for meat and poultry have gotten cheaper at the grocery store as the supply grows. Chicken breast costs in November were at their lowest level in five years, and steak and ham are getting less expensive, government data shows.
A prediction of record meat and poultry consumption comes as plant-based foods experienced an 8.1% growth in sales during the past year. Plant-based meats alone accounted for 2.1% of sales in refrigerated and frozen meat products sold at retail, according to Nielsen data during a 52-week period ended in mid-August. Packaged Facts predicts meat and poultry will remain "mainstays and protein powerhouses" despite challenges from plant protein alternatives, according to The Shelby Report.
In its report, “Meat & Poultry: U.S. Retail Market Trends & Opportunities,” the market research firm projected that sales of meat, poultry and meat substitutes will come in just below $100 billion in 2021. Meat substitutes are forecast to command less than $2 billion of that total. So, if prices for meat and poultry products continue to drop, consumers will continue to buy and consume them, even if they occasionally mix it up with plant-based entrees.
While meat is surging, numerous plant-based protein alternatives continue to hit the market, and many companies are starting to find some success. Large food makers watching this trend are buying into plant-based companies because they know the demand for high-quality products made without meat or poultry is growing and could be a challenge to their businesses going forward. Just last year, Tyson Foods acquired a 5% stake in meat alternatives producer Beyond Meat, and recently boosted its investment late last year. And, in September, Nestle acquired Sweet Earth, a plant-based food manufacturer based in California.
The top reasons for consumer interest in protein include the desire for healthy diets, weight management, building muscle, boosting energy and managing appetites. Since plenty of consumers believe those things can only be acquired from animal sources, meat and poultry consumption is likely to continue on an upward path even with the growing presence of plant-based products.