The COVID-19 pandemic has put health in the spotlight. During the tumultuous year that was 2020, personal health and the health and well-being of others was repeatedly a concern of consumers.1 When it comes to the meat case, consumers often equate “health” to natural, organic, antibiotic free and a slew of other claims-based meat products.
In March and April 2020, sales of claims-based meat spiked – likely because out-of-stocks led consumers to purchase anything that was available. However, according to data from IRI, sales volume of claims-based meat outpaced the growth of conventional meat through the summer and into the fall. During the height of the pandemic, organic beef saw volume growth of 45 percent while non-organic grew only 14 percent.2 In pork, it was meat with antibiotics claims that took off. Antibiotic-free pork grew 20 percent during the pandemic, compared to only 13 percent of pork without the claim.3
By the end of 2020, about 10 percent of regular natural and organic meat purchasers* converted to claims-based meat during the pandemic. But the real growth story comes from the fact that 35 percent of organic and 27 percent of natural meat shoppers said they are purchasing even more claims-based meat since COVID-19 began. The answer when asked why they are purchasing more? Health, health, health.4
Since health continues to be a topic of discussion and more shoppers than ever are picking up claims-based meat, it’s important to know who these consumers are and how they are shopping for their meat products of choice.
Natural or Organic?
Let’s consider what it means for meat to be “natural” or “organic.” According to the USDA, “natural meat” is a product containing no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. While it may not be on every label, nearly all fresh meat falls under the USDA’s definition of “natural.”
“Organic,” on the other hand, is a USDA-certification that meat animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100 percent organic feed and forage and not administered antibiotics or hormones.
About 70 percent of natural meat shoppers say they know the definition of the “natural” claim; another 22 percent believe they might know the definition.4 However, when asked if they agree with statements about characteristics of natural meat, we see an opportunity for education. About 70 percent of natural meat consumers believe that natural meat “comes from animals that are given no added hormones” and 64 percent say it “comes from animals that are never given antibiotics.” Similarly, about 80 percent of organic meat purchasers agreed that organic meat comes from animals that are never given antibiotics or hormones.4 The difference, though, with organic meat is that those assumptions are all partially correct.
Both natural and organic meat purchasers are interested in many more issues than the general U.S. meat consumer. Some of the attitudes are to be expected – such as the 35 percentage-point difference between the natural and organic meat purchasers’ willingness to pay more for “organic” meat than the general meat consumer. But other attitudes are more surprising. Eighty percent of U.S. meat consumers say they eat meat because it tastes good – 86 percent and 87 percent of organic and natural meat shoppers, respectively, say the same thing. Similarly, natural and organic consumers come in about 10 percentage points higher than the general meat consumer in believing that meat is the best source of energy.4,5
Where these groups begin to differ in shopping behaviors is that 40 percent of organic meat purchasers have shopped in-person at a health, natural or organic food store in the past month, compared to only 29 percent of natural meat shoppers.4
Another shopping behavior that differentiates the two groups (and truly makes them stand out from the general meat consumer) is online meat shopping. As of September, 53 percent of meat consumers had purchased meat online at some point during the pandemic. In contrast, 68 percent of organic shoppers bought natural or organic meat online during the month of November. Organic shoppers are also leading the growth of direct-to-consumer shopping with 21 percent having ordered from a meat-specific delivery service (like Crowd Cow or ButcherBox) in November (compared to only 9 percent of general meat consumers between March and September).1,4
1 Midan Marketing, COVID-19 Survey Results Wave 8, October 2020.
2 IRI POS Syndicated Data, 33 weeks ending 11/01/20.
3 IRI POS Syndicated Data 37 weeks ending 11/29/20.
4 Midan Marketing, Natural & Organic Meat Purchaser Survey, December 2020.
5 Midan Marketing, Meat Consumer Segmentation 2.1, September 2020.
This content originally appeared in The Shelby Report.