Visions of Grilling Season: Warmer Weather Means Beef

Alison krebs | january 18, 2019

We may be in the depths of winter, but grilling season will soon arrive – even if the groundhog sees his shadow.  With that in mind, let’s look at retail beef sales patterns from past summers when consumers fired up their smokers and grills, as summer planning will soon be in full swing.

While a lucky few may have access to their grill year-round, the peak “grilling season” typically begins with Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day.  This 15-week stretch includes four big holidays (with Father’s Day and 4th of July) and many kids are out of school, so it’s prime time for outdoor cooking and celebrations.

Consumers say beef is frequently their top grilling season protein.1 Retail sales data certainly supports this as high-value middle meat steak sales jump over 5% from average during this timeframe.2 Ground Beef remains a steady player throughout the year but shines in burger form during these summer months.3 An added bonus for retailers is how beef in the cart helps drive sales across the entire store, so capturing these summer beef sales helps propel meat case and total store performance.4

2018 grilling season beef sales were particularly robust as dollar and pound sales were 6.2% and 6.1% higher respectively on 0.1% higher prices.  Ground Beef dollar sales led the charge with an 8.3% dollar increase whereas Rib and Loin steak dollar sales were 6.6% higher from the prior year.  The top selling cuts remained Ribeye and Strip Steaks, while Tenderloin Steak, Tenderloin Filet and T-bone Steak sales became more prominent (Table 1).5 Consumers clearly opted for quality as they more frequently chose these premium cuts during the 2018 grilling season when compared to the prior year.  

Beyond the high-end, Top Round First Steak (commonly sold as London Broil) reaches the top ten list during grilling season, as this flexible cut works well on the grill when marinated and can serve a family or guests.  By pounds, Brisket (Deckle-Off) also makes the grilling season list, as smokers see more summertime action, as well.  Cuts that typically achieve the biggest jump in grilling season sales, however, include Kabobs, Coulotte Roast and Bottom Sirloin, where 58%, 49% and 47% of annual sales, respectively, occur during this 15-week span.6

Zeroing in on the four grilling season holidays, we look at sales during the week prior to or including each holiday to indicate what consumers are most likely putting on their grill for the occasion.7 For total beef, 2018 Memorial Day sales were highest, followed by Father’s Day, Labor Day and the 4th of July.,8 Father’s Day is typically dominated by steaks on the grill, whereas Memorial Day and the 4th of July are the biggest grilling weeks for Ground Beef.

Comparing 2018 beef sales during these holiday weeks to the prior year, Chart 1 shows how Rib and Loin steak sales were significantly higher for Memorial Day and Father’s Day (with stronger Father’s Day sales being driven by price).  Fourth of July steak sales showed modest declines prior to rebounding for Labor Day.With Ground Beef (Chart 2), Memorial Day and Father’s Day sales zoomed higher, the 4th of July increase was price driven, and Labor Day savings propelled sales higher.


Table 2 shows the most prominent cuts by holiday.  As with the overall grilling season, higher-end steak sales for each holiday strengthened in 2018.10

Grilling season is a big time for beef at retail.  Summer holidays are particularly robust for beef sales, although preferences change somewhat by occasion.  It’s time to start planning…

  1. Google Consumer Surveys: Proteins likely to grill or eat on Labor Day weekend, August 25, 2016.
  2. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 11/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  3. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 11/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  4. IRI Market Basket Study, Total US All Outlets, February 2019
  5. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 11/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  6. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 11/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  7. Retail sales data is available weekly, however, IRI does not allow individual week sales data to be shared. Rankings and percent changes are therefore included instead.
  8. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 11/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  9. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 11/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.
  10. IRI/Freshlook, Total US MULO ending 11/26/18; Categorized by VMMeat System.