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A look at consumer concerns in light of the pandemic

Progressive Cattle Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 18 June 2020

In a typical year, a 1% to 2% gain of beef retail sales would call for an industry-wide pat on the back. A 20% to 40% to even a 60% gain in the first half of 2020, however, is unheard of.

But this isn’t a typical year.

In a first-ever online format, Shawn Darcy, director of market research at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), discussed current consumer trends and their shift due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the annual Beef Improvement Federation convention.

“Those are really astronomical numbers that we are seeing across the country,” Darcy said in his presentation on June 9. “We have gone down, and I think this last week here we were at about 26%. And, again, while that is trending down, that number is still very high.”

With disruption in the food industry, as restaurants shut down and purchases were shifted to retail, it’s no surprise that about 65% of consumers express concern for future food shortages. The staples they are most concerned about are chicken breasts, eggs and milk. Ground beef was fourth on the list, followed by steak.

Darcy told listeners, the NCBA is continuing to monitor stocking-up behavior. He said, there has definitely been an uptick of people stocking up on different items, with about 60% of people saying they are stocking up a little more than they typically have. Most consumers have at least one to four weeks of food on hand, with about 20% having more than five weeks of food.

“There really is not many that have less than one week,” Darcy said. “They are just a little more cautious on how many times they go to the store, or they just might find it inconvenient with the processes in place. They are doing larger shops instead of the smaller shops that might become more frequent throughout the week.”

What are they stocking up on? Darcy noted that about 20% of consumers say they have over five steak meals saved up, and more than 30% say the same for ground-beef meals. Roasts are lower on the list, but some consumers are stocking up on those as well, Darcy said. The NCBA is currently looking at what they can do to help entice people to continue eating beef, whether it’s the beef in their freezer or going to the store and purchasing it. He said quick and easy meal ideas, general preparation and anything around value or retail promotion is all appreciated by consumers.

As an open-ended question, consumers were asked to think about the next few months and if they had any fears or concerns around the beef industry. What they found was the number of consumers with concerns, particularly meat-shortage concerns, has declined, while pricing concerns remain consistent. Darcy said, “We didn’t have a lot of specific mentions around worker safety or around packing plants that would be a concern at the consumer level. A lot of it was general concern about not being able to find the steak cut or the beef that they want, or even stores limiting how many they could purchase, so they would have to go to the store more often.”

Food safety has also been top-of-mind for consumers, with 73% saying they are more concerned, or have a heightened concern, due to COVID-19, and about half of that group saying they are concerned about food handling in particular. Darcy said, “The good news is they are not relating it to being in the food, which we were a little worried for a time that may be the case. It is really only about 1% to 2 % of consumers that thought the food itself could have it. Most were worried about the employees handling of it or the package it was in.”

Another area to pay attention to is the number of consumers turning to online meal ordering and grocery shopping. Darcy found 86% of consumers are currently ordering meals online with almost half doing so on a weekly basis, with two-thirds of consumers admitting they have increased or just started online meal ordering and they plan to continue or increase this behavior. Online grocery shopping has also seen an increase of new shoppers, with 21% saying they started using this service in light of current events. “A lot of people believe this [shopping] behavior will continue once this COVID-situation is over,” Darcy said.  end mark

To listen to the full recording of this presentation, visit the Beef Improvement Federation’s website.

PHOTO: Ground beef and steak were in the top five staples consumers listed as a concern for future shortages. Staff photo.

Cassidy Woolsey
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