The Retail Meat Case: America's Favorite Beef Cuts

Alison Krebs| September 17, 2018

Everyone has a “Top 10” list, whether it be movies, restaurants or vacation spots.  Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. likes to keep lists as well, and one of our favorites is Top Selling Beef Cuts at Retail. 

Leveraging IRI/Freshlook scanner data, we can understand consumer buying behavior at the meat case.1,2 While cattle anatomy dictates the overall nature of beef supply (e.g. two Tenderloins), consumers’ willingness to pay ultimately dictates fabrication and therefore, cut sales.  Basically, if the demand isn’t there, then neither is the cut.  (And the available Beef becomes Ground Beef.)

Over 140 Beef cuts are sold at retail and the Top 10 account for 31% of total cut dollar sales. So, which Beef cuts are resonating most with consumers in 2018?  Essentially, this Top 10 List (Table 1)  features high-end steak cuts that are great for grilling, broiling or pan-frying This is led by Ribeye, Strip and T-Bone, with Tenderloin making the list due to its high price point. Continuing with steaks, the mid-range Sirloin is followed by the classic London Broil – which works well when marinated and can feed a crew – officially known as the Top Round First Steak.  

On this list, however, steak cuts are balanced by more economical offerings such as two different Chuck Roasts, Stew Meat and Cubed Steak, where slower cooking methods make these options tender and flavorful.  Re-sorting this list by pounds bumps both Chuck Center Roast and Top Round First Steak up a couple notches, elevates Corned Brisket Flat to the list and drops Tenderloin Steak to number 25.

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 7/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Drilling further into sales of the top two cuts (Ribeye and Strip Steak), bone-state is part of the mix for both.  While boneless cuts account for the majority of sales for both steaks, the boneless Ribeye has a slightly lower share of sales (69%) than a boneless Strip (75%).  The boneless shares of these cuts diverged somewhat during the tight supplies and higher prices of late-2014 through early-2016 , but some separation remains.  Overall, however, there is currently no pronounced move towards (or away from) boneless Ribeye or Strip Steaks (Chart 1). 

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 7/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

Comparing sales from the first seven months of 2018 to the same period a year ago, the list is quite consistent.  While Ribeye and Strip Steaks remain the perennial favorites, consumers have picked up on more affordable pricing for the T-Bone Steak as both dollar and volume sales have double-digit increases.  Chuck Center Roast sales have moderated while Stew Meat sales are higher, primarily based on robust pricing.  And, Blade Chuck Roast sales are stronger in dollars, pounds and price.

Looking at cut sales by region, distinct patterns emerge (Table 2).  For example, at 20% of total Beef cut dollar sales, the Ribeye Steak dominates in the South Central and Southeast Regions, whereas Strip Steak is the top cut in the Northeast and ties the Ribeye at 13% of sales in the Plains states .  The most regionally unique cuts are the Sirloin Bavette and Tri-Tip Roast in California, the Brisket Deckle-Off in the South-Central U.S., the Chuck Eye Roast near the Great Lakes, and the Petite Sirloin Steak in the West.  Finally, Porterhouse Steak and Top Round First Steak are more prominent in the Northeast.3

Source: IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 7/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System

2018 sales of top selling Beef cuts are strong.   Prices have remained robust as supplies continue to increase spurred by growing consumer demand.  Regional differences play a role in cut preference, but the list of top selling cuts remains as consistent as the great taste of Beef.

  1. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 7/30/18; Categorized by VMMeat System
  2. Note: 2016 IRI Consumer Panel Data suggests 87% of fresh beef purchases are included in IRI/Freshlook scanner data
  3. IRI/Freshlook Region Map