Consumers Celebrate Winter Holidays with Beef

August 14, 2019

While summer grilling season remains in full swing, retailers will soon turn to winter holiday planning when beef will again, take center-stage.  Ground Beef, Chuck Center Roasts, Ribeye Steaks and other options will remain in shoppers’ carts through back-to-school and the fall, but beef takes December holidays to a whole other level.  This article looks at the Ribeye Roast and beyond to better understand celebratory winter holiday beef sales.

For this article, the winter holiday time period is the last three weeks of recent years.  This three-week span captures retail purchases after Thanksgiving turkey leftovers wane, yet includes purchases for most seasonal parties, as well as the Christmas, New Year’s, and Hanukkah (typically) holidays.  During this time, beef sales surge.  On average, dollar sales jump 12% on 7% higher volumes (and 5% stronger prices).1  Beef sales climb highest for Christmas (the 51st) week, when purchases are fully a third higher than average weekly beef sales (Chart 1).

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 6/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

The main driver is the seasonal favorite: Ribeye Roast.  This cut has long been the centerpiece of holiday tables and festive spreads throughout the season.  In fact, over 61% of annual Ribeye Roast sales take place during these final three weeks of the year, when it replaces Ribeye Steak as the number one selling beef cut at retail.  In 2018, this translated into $247.2 million of sales or 36.9 million pounds, an increase of 4.5% over the prior year.  So, this favorite cut was even more popular in 2018.

Beyond the Ribeye Roast, sales of several other roasts increase for the holidays.  Table 1 shows how sales for Strip and Tenderloin Roasts also see sharply higher sales during December.  In fact, all cuts with significantly higher sales during these three weeks are roast-type items.  These cuts allow consumers to do initial preparation, cook the beef low-and-slow while focusing on accompaniments, preparations or entertaining, then ultimately present a festive, tasty and special experience for family and friends to enjoy.  

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 6/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

While high-end cut sales jump the most, more affordable options such as Sirloin Tip and Eye of Round Roasts also see a boost in sales, reinforcing how beef roasts can be a holiday centerpiece for consumers of most all socio-economic levels.  Finally, several Brisket cuts make the list, driven by Hanukkah tradition as well as regional tastes.

Table 2 captures these top selling cuts by region.2   It shows how Brisket Deckle-Off remains a favorite in the South-Central states over the winter holidays.  That said, Ribeye Roast is the clear favorite across the board, followed by Tenderloin or Ribeye Roll across the seven other regions.  A more affordable option makes every regional list, with the Eye of Round Roast a top five choice everywhere but California.

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 6/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

A key option for some of these more prominent cuts is bone-in or boneless, and Chart 2 shows the three most-relevant cuts.  Whereas the Rib cut sales are dominated by bone-in (at 85% and 93% respectively), the reverse is true for the Strip Roast, of which just 3% are bone-in sales.  Along with tradition, price also has an impact, as the 2018 bone-in retail price for the Ribeye Roast was 87% that of the boneless and the bone-in Ribeye Roll price was 68% of boneless.  On the other hand, the bone-in Strip Roast price actually exceeded that of boneless by 3%, steering shoppers to the boneless option.

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 6/30/19; Categorized by VMMeat System

Before we know it, summer’s heat and humidity will give way to cooler climes.  Shopping habits at retail will transition as grilling season fades to fall, then harvest to Thanksgiving.  Come December’s holidays, consumers will again be looking for those special cuts of beef to complete their celebrations.  Will you be ready?

  1. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 6/30/19; Categorized by VMMEAT System
  2. Click here for IRI Regions Map