Summer Grilling Season’s Retail Beef Demand

June 21, 2021

Beef Lifestyle - Family BBQ

Defined as the weeks from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the annual summer grilling season is upon us. With consumers increasing their social activity amid improving comfort levels, backyard barbecues and parties will likely increase in prevalence. In fact, consumers responding to a recent checkoff-funded survey reported having plans to grill 9.23 times per month on average in 2021, up one entire occasion from last year’s levels1.  Additionally, most people plan to grill more specifically on the summer holidays than they did last year. 

What does this mean for retail meat sales? Historically, retail protein demand ramps up from the first four months of the year to May as consumers begin preparing for warmer months and summer holidays. This elevated demand holds steady before dropping in the holiday-free month of August and increasing again in September for Labor Day. The fresh meat department experiences most of that increased demand with higher purchases of beef products, especially steaks and ground beef. Steaks and ground beef are a staple for grills and smokers and make up two of the top five most popular items found on summer holiday menus.2  

Data from 2018 and 2019* shows that volumes sold in the retail fresh meat department are on average 2.4% higher on a weekly basis during the summer than weekly sales for the remainder of the year3. The 15-week summer grilling season accounts for, on average, 31% of annual beef demand.

On top of the already elevated demand environment experienced in this 15-week timeframe, beef and protein volume sales increase further during the weeks of Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. Ground beef and steak cuts enjoy the highest growth of all beef products, increasing on average 6% and 14%, respectively.3 The summer grilling season makes up 32% of ground beef sales and 35% of steak sales for the entire year.4  

Diving into specific cuts, Tenderloin, Strip/Top Loin, Skirt and Porterhouse Steaks experience the highest rate of growth transitioning from April to the summer holiday months. These demand levels hold fairly steady throughout the summer grilling season until October when demand slightly drops before picking up again for the winter holiday months. 

With higher demand levels retail, what happens to the beef prices? In 2019, the average price for a pound of beef increased roughly 8 cents from April to a summer grilling season peak in June, slowly decreasing in price through the end of Labor Day.5 Though prices increase slightly during the summer season, shoppers still choose beef products for their summer holiday meals. 

Source: NielsenIQ, Answers on Demand, Annual Beef Volume Sales, Processed 05/2021

These higher prices and higher volumes lead to increased dollars spent by consumers in the fresh meat department. Consumers spent an average of $2.02 billion on beef each month that make up the summer grilling season, totaling over a third of beef’s annual value in 15 weeks for 2019.6  Looking at the popularity of steak cuts more granularly, the most popular steak sold in the summer is Ribeye Steak, with nearly double the volume of any other individual steak cut.7

Summer grilling season is an important time for the retail meat department. This 2021 grilling season in particular, consumers consider grilling a reason to celebrate and get back together with family and friends driving them to retailers to stock up on grilling staples. Throw in the fact that beef demand increases from 2020 have continued into the first half of 2021 and the summer grilling season has the potential to continue to drive growth for retail stores compared to 2019 levels. 

Beef is at the forefront of retail shoppers’ minds and grocery carts throughout the year but there is no better time to highlight the benefits and taste of the highest selling protein than the summer grilling season. Check out some of favorite recipes from around the country to share with your shoppers at:

  1. Summer Grilling and Consumer Comfort Survey, March-April 2021 
  2. Summer Grilling and Consumer Comfort Survey, June 2020   
  3. NielsenIQ, Answers on Demand, Weekly Beef Volume Sales, Data Ending December 2020, Processed 5/31/2021  
  4. NielsenIQ, Answers on Demand, Annual Beef Volume Sales, Data Ending December 2020, Processed 5/31/2021   
  5. NielsenIQ, Answers on Demand, Average Monthly Beef Price, Data Ending September 2020, Processed 6/1/2021   
  6. Nielsen IQ, Answers on Demand, Annual Beef Dollar Sales, Data Ending December 2019, Processed 6/1/2021   
  7. Nielsen IQ, Answers on Demand, Weekly Beef Volume Sales by Product Type, Data Ending December 2020, Processed 6/1/2021

    *Data comparisons made to 2018/2019 versus 2020 given the significant pandemic-related volatility of 2020