Shopping for meat in all the right places

Shopping for meat in all the right places

“Free Range,” “Grass Fed,” “All Natural,” “Pasture Raised” - it all sounds so appealing how can any meat eater resist? And, in fact, plenty don’t. From all evidence, the market for beef, pork, lamb, bison, and venison raised in idyllic conditions is growing steadily. The USDA reports that meat (along with fish and poultry) has been the fastest growing component of the overall organic food market over the last decade. In addition, according to research from the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) the U.S. had an estimated 2.3 million acres of certified organic pasture and rangeland in 2012, up from just a half million acres in 2000.

As published in Branded Refrigerated Meats and Meals: U.S. Market Trends, Packaged Facts online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults (census representative on the primary demographic measures of gender, age, geographic region, race/ethnicity, presence of children in the household, and household income) conducted in April and May 2014 found that well over half of the respondents (57%) regularly buy more healthful meat items. Only about 10% said they did not. Further, almost the identical percentages apply, agreeing and disagreeing, to the statement “I Regularly Buy Higher-Quality Meat Items.”

The Packaged Facts survey also found that over 40% of the respondents seek out meat from local sources as opposed to 22% that don’t pursue this as a venue for their meat supply. A little over a third of the respondents indicated that they regularly buy natural and organic meat products.

In addition, over 56% of the respondents said they are concerned about the use of antibiotics and hormones in meat, as opposed to the 21% of the respondents who appear not to be concerned about the issue. Over 53% of the respondents said they worry about the preservatives and additives in meat. Less than 20% indicated they were not worried about this. Further, over 40% of the respondents reported that they seek out meat from animals that were raised more humanely.

Consumers eager to eat what they perceive to be healthier meat products can find them in their local farmers markets or through their community supported agriculture (CSA) organizations; in their independent natural food stores and chains like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s; and even on the shelves of their traditional supermarkets. They can also be ordered in frozen form directly from the producers.

The outlets for natural and organic meat products are increasing steadily in number. For example, the number of farmers markets has risen from 2,863 in 2000 to 8,144 in 2013. Of these, over 2,600 currently have vendors selling meat products. In addition, since the first U.S. CSA was launched in 1985, the movement has expanded to include over 1,000 such programs. Whole Foods Market has grown from a single store in 1980 to some 360 in 2014 and Trader Joe’s has increased from a single store in 1967 to over 400 at present.

Although the consumer concerns about meat quality and the growth of outlets for natural and organic meat products is impressive, organic meats still represent only 3% of total organic food sales, about $850 million in 2012. Further, they account for only about 3% of overall meat sales. Given that rather small share, why all the fuss? As is often the case with trend setting movements, the excitement in the press would appear to be significantly out of line with what the numbers suggest. Certainly it’s more fun to describe cows grazing in an open meadow than to write about them being shot full of antibiotics.

Nevertheless, beyond the romantic notion of cattle roaming free on the open range, there is genuine awareness that an important shift is taking place in the retail grocery industry. Walmart, which tends to set the pace for much of what happens in the retail grocery industry, announced in April that it was rollout an expanded line of private label organic foods through its 4,000 stores at prices that come in about 25% below those of comparable organic brands. And Walmart also indicated that despite this move, it has no intention of dropping any of the 1,600 branded organic products it already carries. Although the Walmart organic line is packaged foods, the influence of such a move can only be a plus for expanded sales of natural and organic meat products down the road, or rather, down the old cattle trail.

This blog is based on research featured in Packaged Facts’Branded Refrigerated Meats and Meals: U.S. Market Trends, published in August 2014.  Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through December 1, 2014. Use codePF2014BRM.

- By Howard Waxman