Beef and the Recent Increase in Online Grocery Shopping

June 29, 2020


Online grocery ordering has expanded its reach and popularity over the past several years, but current events have recently aided its growth. Progressive Grocer and a study by Brick Meets Click report the household penetration for online grocery shopping hit its highest at 33% in May of 2020. Based on this rapid shift in consumer behavior, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, sought to better understand the online grocery landscape both at a high-level, as well as specific to beef.

Initially, the research gathered insight on how consumers’ online grocery behavior has changed with the current climate around the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, 51% of consumers increased their online grocery shopping and 21% just started buying groceries online. Further, 70% of the total consumers surveyed plan to continue or increase online grocery shopping in the future. 

Other insights were gathered on who online grocery consumers are, their barriers and motivations for online grocery shopping, and their general purchase habits. Anyone can order groceries online and it is common across all regions of the country, but younger and higher income consumers are the most concentrated groups of online shoppers. Those who order groceries online more often are also demographically different. More frequent online grocery shoppers skew male, middle-aged, and those with kids. These consumers are also more inclined to order beef online. For those who do buy fresh beef online, only 5% have ever been unsatisfied. Satisfied consumers commented on beef’s freshness and quality the most: 

"I've never had problems with ordering fresh beef online. In fact, I think the product I received was better than what I would have picked."

"My beef was picked by someone who knew what they were doing. Just the right amount of marbling on all of it."

"It's a good quality meat and it was fresh."

However, results show the primary reason some consumers have yet to buy groceries online is due to the desire to pick out their own items, especially fresh produce and meat. The cost associated with delivery and subscription fees is also a hindrance to online grocery shopping. On the other hand, the impact from COVID-19 has encouraged more consumers to purchase online, but saving time and the fact that it has become easier has helped the virtual experience.   

When it comes to beef, these motivations are still top of mind. Among those who aren’t currently buying beef but are open to it, having more information on its quality and expiration date, having a discount to try or buy the first time, or knowing someone from the meat department is picking out their beef would help.  As mentioned, many consumers are hesitant to shop for groceries online because they cannot pick out their meat or produce themselves. Clearly consumers feel a lack of control when it comes to online grocery shopping, which translates to a desire for personalization when it comes to buying beef online.

Specifically, 56% of consumers report they would not buy fresh beef online. When asked why, picking out and seeing the beef product was still mentioned most, but a more in-depth look showed this was because consumers wanted to ensure the freshness, quality, and exact specifications of the beef like they could at the store. As previously noted, these factors are not concerning for people that are currently shopping online, which demonstrates a disconnect for non-purchasers to convert. A few of their direct responses highlight this finding: 

"I would be worried about its quality. I would much rather go to the store and pick out my own meat."

"I am very picky and choosy when it comes to beef. I like to look at the meat and fat ratio and how fresh the meat looks."

"I feel like there is no guarantee the product will be fresh. Also, I get anxiety thinking about receiving a near expired product or one of poor quality."

To solve for this, customizing the beef ordering experience as much as possible or providing guarantees in the selection and delivery of beef will help. This is notably important for steak. When comparing specific beef barriers within this research—across ground beef, steaks, and roasts—consumers had more concern for steak quality and getting the right cut and size. In general, consumers would be more inclined to try buying steak and other types of beef online if online grocery retailers leveraged specific tactics. Such tactics that consumers rated higher include: 

  • Providing images of the specific cuts/types of beef
  • Customization of beef—particularly steak size, thickness, grade, and cut
  • Listing amounts, expiration dates, grade, cut, and fat ratios with relevant beef products
  • Providing a discount/incentive to try or buy select beef products online for the first time
  • Assurance of safe handling (delivery window, cold storage, etc.)

There is no doubt the online grocery space will only continue to grow. While the current situation has elevated this growth, we know recently converted consumers are also coming away highly satisfied. Additionally, overcoming the barrier of wanting to personally shop and select beef is critical to increasing online beef purchases among consumers. The research conducted shows there is an opportunity to overcome this challenge by utilizing more unique tactics for online grocery shopping. As consumers are at home cooking, grilling, and hopefully enjoying beef, retailers have an opportunity to help them feel more comfortable buying that beef online.