Retail Feature Trends: Beef Remains a Driver

may 16, 2019

Whether via in-store signage, paper circulars, digital circulars, store apps, or other means, weekly meat and poultry features have long captured shoppers’ attention.  In fact, circulars and apps almost always highlight meat department items on page one because fresh (particularly meat) draws consumers to stores.1  Because of this draw, retailers have run at least 12.1 million meat & poultry ads in each of the past several years, although the 2017 12.7 million-total tapered slightly in 2018 to 12.4 million ads.2

Beef has long been a particularly attractive feature, as baskets with beef nearly double the average trip ring, while carts with beef drive 44% more sales across the store than those with chicken.3  Given this important role in driving total store sales, retailers typically feature beef more often.  Since 2012, beef ads have accounted for 39.6% of meat & poultry features, with this share reaching 41.1% in 2018. Over the same 2012-2018 time-period, chicken, pork and turkey accounted for 27.0%, 22.9% and 8.0% of ads, respectively, while lamb and veal accounted for the remaining 2.8%.5  Other than November when featuring turns to turkey, or Easter, which has traditionally favored ham (although beef ad counts around Easter have been inching higher), beef’s strong featuring share remains quite steady throughout the year (Chart 1).

Source: USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Diving into beef featuring data, primal and cut ads have averaged 80% of the total since 2012, with the 20% balance for Ground Beef (Chart 2).  2018 was a particularly robust year for Ground Beef ads (22%), and this share has increased slightly each year since 2014.  That said, Loin cuts (including Sirloin) still accounted for the greatest share of beef ads in 2018 (24%), followed by Round, Chuck and Rib.  The higher share of Ground Beef ads primarily replaced those for Carcass items (e.g. Cubed Steak, Stew Meat, Strips, etc.) and Chuck cuts.

Source: USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Ground Beef ad counts since 2012 have varied seasonally along with sales, as ads have clearly favored the lowest-lean grinds through the warmer, grilling season months.  Counts are higher overall for percent lean vs. primal grinds, with lower, albeit steady Ground Round and Sirloin ad placements throughout the year.  As Ground Beef is such a high-volume product, with lower-lean grinds meeting affordability as well as versatility needs, it’s no surprise that retailer promotional activity drove 20.1% of 2018 Ground Beef sales.

Source: USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Chart 4 shows 2016-2018 annual feature activity for the top 15 cuts (by dollar sales).  After bottoming in 2014-15 when supplies were tight, more recent ad numbers have been relatively steady, with Chuck Center Roast consistently being the most featured cut.  2018 vs. 2017 ad counts were strongest for T-Bone Steak, Top Round First Steak (a.k.a. London Broil) and Bottom Round Roast, whereas Boneless Ribeye Steak, Chuck Center Roast, Top Sirloin Steak, Porterhouse Steak and Sirloin Tip Steak ads declined.  2018 Grilling Season sales reflected the power of featuring beef, as T-Bone pound sales moved higher, while Chuck Center Roast and Sirloin Tip Steak sales waned.  On average, feature sales accounted for 39.9% of the top 15 cut sales in 2018.

Source: USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

One additional slice of feature data is to look at how average feature price varies from the average retail price.  Chart 5 shows this average “discount” for each of the top 15 cuts.  Typically, the average price difference has been greater in the past two years than the past 5-year average, reflecting today’s highly competitive retail environment.  The only exception is the Tenderloin Steak, where the average price difference has been shrinking from prior year levels, although the 14.4% difference of 2018 still exceeds the 13.3% average across cuts.  Despite having limited ad counts in 2018, the discounts for Top Sirloin and Sirloin Tip Steaks were quite robust.  Stronger 2018 discounts were present for Cubed Steak, as well as for Ribeye, Strip and Porterhouse Steaks.6

Sources: USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 2/25/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

Meat department featuring remains an important promotional tool for retailers.  Frequent ads offering favorable pricing, especially on beef, capture shopper interest, which drives department and total store traffic and sales.

  1. 2019 Power of Meat Study, 210 Analytics, FMI.
  2. USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  3. Market Basket Study, IRI Panel Data ending 1/6/19, February 2019.
  4. USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  5. USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  6. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 3/26/19; USDA Market News, ending 12/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.