When It Comes to Protein, North Americans Still Flock to Meat

When It Comes to Protein, North Americans Still Flock to Meat

When it comes to protein, nearly half of consumers eat a form of protein with every meal. For one-fifth of consumers in both the U.S. and Canada, plant-based proteins like legumes, seeds and nuts are among their preferred sources of protein. However, animal protein from meat, such as chicken, beef, turkey, pork and seafood, ranks first, which aligns with the fact that consumers in both countries spend more than half of their protein dollars on animal protein.

In fact, many consumers associate eating animal protein with being healthy. According to a recent consumer survey in the U.S. and Canada, many of those surveyed believe unprocessed meat is good for you, and more than a third say people who don’t consume animal proteins are missing out on certain nutrients.

Aside from the perceived health benefits, retailers and meat producers also need to understand how the price tag affects consumption. This is particularly important when prices fluctuate. Looking back to the first quarter of 2017 in the U.S., fresh meat was one of the top categories contributing to price deflation, or the reduction of general prices in the economy. Dollars sales declined (with exception of turkey and lamb sales in Canada), while volume sales continue to rise. This indicates that consumers are capitalizing on lower prices to satisfy their animal protein preferences.

Americans’ Purchase Behavior for Animal Protein

In the U.S., overall dollar growth for fresh meat categories declined 2% in the latest 52 weeks ended July 1, 2017, while volume rose 2%. Volume sales of fresh beef and turkey increased 6% and 1%, respectively. Chicken consumption remained flat, while consumption of pork and lamb declined in volume (down 3% and 2%, respectively). Fresh seafood, a top contributor to inflation, declined 2% in overall volume, despite dollar growth within prepared crustaceans (5%), prepared fish (4%) and shrimp (3%).

Regardless of pricing pressures, Americans’ growing focus on transparency indicate significant growth opportunities for products with healthy attributes. Within the lunch meat category, for example, products that are antibiotic and hormone free, as well as those with no artificial preservatives, are driving significant volume, according to Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight.

How Canadians Shop for Meat

Despite a 1% decline in Canadian dollar sales of fresh meat categories, overall volume is on the rise (2%), indicating that consumption hasn’t waned. Beef (9%), turkey (7%) and lamb (6%) are leading the volume growth, while volume sales of pork and chicken have declined (2% and 1%, respectively). In the seafood department, frozen seafood was the only category with dollar growth (2%) and flat volume, while fresh seafood, canned tuna, canned salmon and other canned seafood experienced declines in both dollar and volume sales.

Regardless of Pricing Pressures, Transparency Plays a Role

Consumer preferences for healthier, clean food is clear in both the U.S. and Canada, especially in the meat department. Sustainability is also an important consideration, as many consumers on both sides of the border say they’re willing to pay more for meat that is locally sourced (41% in Canada; 35% in U.S.) and ethically raised (35% in Canada; 31% in U.S.). But consumer preferences don’t not stop at ethics: Manufacturers need to think about the labels they place on packing. Meat products sold in the U.S. that are clearly labeled with transparent claims like antibiotic-free and grass-fed are driving dollar growth (27% and 17%, respectively). Whether located in the U.S. or Canada, manufacturers in both countries can capitalize on these trends to align with consumers’ animal protein preferences.


Insights from this article were derived from:

  • Nielsen Homescan Panel survey, April 2017 (U.S.)
  • Nielsen Panelviews survey, March 2017 (Canada)
  • Nielsen FreshFacts, Total U.S., 52 weeks ended July 1, 2017 vs. year ago, UPC and random weight