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Consumers are Seeking Health, Adventure in the Meat Aisle
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Consumers are Seeking Health, Adventure in the Meat Aisle

Diversifying palates and a focus on health in North America are driving increased demand for a range of atypical meats at the dinner table, introducing an element of adventure along the way. In the year ended June 29, 2012, sales of not-so-typical meats like buffalo, venison, duck and various offals (organ meats) grew an average of 6 percent in the U.S. and rang up more than $350 million in combined sales.

As Americans continue to focus on health and gain experience with exotic meats in restaurants—where most trendy foods get their start—the upward sales growth is staged to continue. By focusing on health-minded consumer demands and an understanding of regional, seasonal and cultural preferences, retailers can take charge as exotic meat market leaders.

Healthy Alternatives for High Society

Health is a big driver of recent sales trends, as many consumers perceive exotic meats to be healthier protein options than traditional meats. According to a recent Nielsen study, couples and families with healthy lifestyles, as well as natural/organic households, purchase buffalo, venison and duck most, and these households tend to be affluent. Their exotic cuts of choice most often include ground venison and buffalo, buffalo steaks, venison medallions and tenderloins, and whole ducks.

Preferences for exotic proteins also appear to be migrating geographically. Buffalo had the greatest dollar sales in the western U.S. in 2012, but is now showing high growth in all regions except the East, where venison is more popular. A decline in buffalo distribution in the East, where venison had almost twice as many impressions (count of unique items selling) than other regions in 2012, has contributed to the trend.

Duck has been growing in popularity across regions, but consumers typically buy it for different occasions than buffalo and venison. Most duck sales occur in the first and fourth quarters of the year, which feature Chinese New Year and Christmas—two popular occasions to serve duck.

Cultural Influences on Consumption Trends

Strong sales and notable growth of duck and chicken fat in the first quarter reflect the influence that the country’s cultural diversity is having on consumer tastes for exotic meats. U.S. Census data shows that more than 60 percent of the total U.S. population growth in 2012 came from immigration. It also shows that Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. These consumers still have strong ties to traditional Asian cuisine, which boosts the sales of the exotic meats that are popular during Chinese New Year, the most important Asian holiday, as well as the sales of chicken feet, which are eaten throughout the year in many Asian dishes and as snacks.

Culture plays a role in the sales of various other offals as well. Hispanics represent the second-largest ethnic group in the U.S. at 17 percent of the U.S. population, and the growth of this demographic is also reflected in meat purchases. For example, Hispanic households purchased the most lamb offals and they also lead the purchasing for veal and beef offals in the year ended June 2012.

Retailers that are aware of market demographics—and regional, seasonal and cultural influences within the category—will be able to capitalize on these up-and-coming proteins.