J. D. Heyes
Sometimes we Americans can be a little stubborn, a little too prideful or provincial when it comes to change. But slowly, surely, Americans are finally “getting it” when it comes to natural and organic foods, and we’re buying more of them.
New consumer research shows that while some grocery spending has fallen in recent months, shoppers are increasing their spending on organic meat and poultry has increased for the first time in years.
The report, called “2012 Power of Meat,” is the seventh annual study of consumption trends conducted by the American Meat Institute, Food Marketing Institute and Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging Division. The report explores consumer perceptions and buying habits, attitudes and behaviors regarding fresh meat and poultry.
Cooking habits improving; sales are up
For this year, the industry groups surveyed 1,340 people in November 2011. A number of topics were explored, including consumption and purchasing patterns, nutrition, marketing techniques, consumer interest in organic and natural meat, packaging and labeling.
Among the group’s findings, Americans are buying fewer groceries as a way to reduce overall spending. The annual study found that of the shoppers who spent less for groceries last year, 45 percent reduced spending by just buying fewer items. That is nearly the same as the share of people who reduced their spending by using coupons, lists and buying private-label products.
Also, the report found natural and organic meat and poultry purchases increased for the first time in many years. In fact, natural and organic poultry markets managed to attract new customers after several years of flat sales. The report said 24 percent of shoppers said they bought natural and/or organic meat and poultry in the three months preceding the study, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year.
Consumers are also improving their cooking habits. The report said consumers were frying less food and slow-cooking more (which, by the way, is also a calorie reducer). Over the past half-decade, the trend of frying less has steadily increased; there has been a 22 percent decline in frying as a way to prepare meals. Meanwhile, the use of slow cookers/crock pots and ovens in meal preparation has spiked 12 percent over the same time frame.
Price, country of origin and content mattering more
Following the recession of 2008-2010 and the resultant stagnant economy, household income has definitely influenced the purchase of meat and poultry. The report noted that household income, in fact, directly influenced the frequency by which meat and poultry was consumed. As you might imagine, shoppers who had a drop in income tended to eat less meat and poultry (an average of 3.8 meals per week versus four times per week in households that experienced no loss of income).
The report said slightly more than half – 51 percent – of shoppers checked processed meat ingredients for sodium content, which was the first time the level exceeded 50 percent, indicating shoppers may be starting to show more concern for their own health, a good sign considering America’s expanding waistlines and higher-than-normal levels of heart disease.
Some 28 percent of shoppers said they would buy more meat and poultry if it were packaged in environmentally friendly wraps and containers, even if it increased the cost of the product somewhat. 49 percent said they would only do so if there was no price difference.
The report also noted that Awareness of Country of Origin Labeling rose by nearly 40 percent, up from 33 percent in 2011, but that had little reported influence on whether or not consumers decided to purchase those items if U.S. meat or poultry was higher.