What’s Trending?  Beef Cuts at Retail

October 10, 2018

With all the talk of things “trending” these days, I thought a look beyond the world of celebrities, sports stars and politics – and into the retail meat case – would be a worthwhile venture.  Last month was about top cuts; this month let’s talk trending cuts. 

For this analysis, 2012 is the base year and January-August are the comparative months, to look as far back as detailed data allows and to include 2018 sales. This year beef sales are up $3.3 billion and 317.8 million pounds versus 2012 with a 12.7% higher average retail beef price of $4.95/pound.1 Strong consumer demand for beef driving a robust supply expansion has been key, but how have the beef cuts in today’s baskets changed?

Starting at the category/primal level, Ground Beef has definitely been on-trend, whereas consumers have been choosing Round, Chuck and other end cuts less often (Chart 1). Middle meat sales have been strong, buoyed by a robust economy and consumers’ continuing desire for the higher-quality beef they’ve found on retail shelves.2

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 8/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Diving into detail on individual cuts, Tables 1 & 2 show what’s on the uptrend whereas Tables 3 & 4 provide insight into cuts on the wane.  To focus on more mainstream offerings, only cuts accounting for at least 0.1% of sales (the top 80) have been included.

First, let’s look at the upside.  Tables 1 & 2 provide similar data, however, Table 1 shows cuts gaining the greatest share by dollars whereas Table 2 shows the same by pounds.  For example, T-Bone Steak accounts for 4.46% of beef cut dollar sales, an increase of 0.90% from 2012.  Compared to 2012, T-Bone Steaks have been a bargain this year with an 11% lower price.  No doubt consumers have picked up on this relative deal, which has fueled the cut’s popularity.

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 8/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 8/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Looking further down the list, other high-end cuts have increased their shares as well, with Ribeye Steaks and Filets taking the next two spots.  The rest of the dollar list contains a mix of cuts across price points with many carrying average-to-above-average increases, indicating strong consumer demand.  For example, Strips have seen a robust price increase and sales gain, as this preparation fits well with consumers’ desire for quick, convenient solutions and it suits varying ethnic tastes, as well.  Additionally, the popularity of Short Ribs at restaurants has reached the home with this cut commanding a 40% price premium from 2012.

Switching to the list by volume, T-Bone Steak is still the fastest mover while two Chuck roasts and several Sirloin and Loin cuts remain on this list, as well (Table 2).  Brisket enters this mix at a relatively affordable price; its popularity continues to resonate.  Overall, cuts with price decreases or modest increases drive this list, but for reasons noted above Strips remain an exception.

Tables 3 & 4 show cuts that have lost the greatest share of sales by dollars and pounds (the reverse of Tables 1 & 2).  By dollars, several decreasing cuts show price declines (as might be expected), whereas others (Top Sirloin Steak) may reflect movement to higher price-point items in the strong economy (e.g. they’re choosing a Ribeye Steak instead).  Additionally, consumers’ desire for convenience may see them choosing a pre-portioned Tenderloin Filet vs. the full Tenderloin.

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 8/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 8/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

By pound share declines, value and end cuts (Cubed Steak, Stew Meat, Round and Chuck) populate much of this list.  Convenience perceptions, preparation confidence and changing preferences may be factors.  Aside from Sirloin Tip and Bottom Round Flat, all cuts on this list have above-average price increases, as well, which may perpetuate these dwindling volumes.

Overall, beef supply continues to increase and retail prices remain robust.  While carcass structure limits cut sale changes, trends are certainly evident.  Middle-meat sales may be strongest amongst the cuts, but at the end of the day consumers continue to enjoy all the choices beef brings to their home.

  1. IFI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 8/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System
  2. USDA Fed Beef Production by Grade, forecast CattleFax