DENVER – The recession is being especially felt in the meat department, according to the fourth edition of the Power of Meat — a joint study by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute. Economic woes are affecting where people shop for meat as well as the kind of cut, brand and quantity purchased.

The report details the findings of a national online poll of 1,059 consumers conducted in November 2008. The study was released March 9 at the 2009 Annual Meat Conference in Denver. The American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute published this consumer research, which was sponsored by Sealed Air’s Cryovac Food Packaging Division.

Shoppers are eating out less and cooking more and they are also trading down, substituting and eliminating. Spending has remained roughly the same at $91 per week. More than half of the respondents (51%) have also changed their purchasing habits at the meat case. Saving money on meat purchases included greater preparation before going to the store and a longer selection process when in the store. Approximately 71% of shoppers say they read the grocery flyers looking for meat and poultry deals more often and more carefully than a year ago. Sixty-nine percent stock up on meat when it is on sale and 67% purchase less expensive cuts either frequently or every time they shop.

Full-service supermarkets remain the most popular venue for buying meat among 66% of the respondents; however, this is down from previous years. More shoppers are now going to warehouse club stores, especially shoppers with higher incomes.

Supermarkets continue to have high retention rates in the meat department, with 88% of supermarket patrons also purchasing their meat and poultry there. Supercenters, on the other hand, continue to lose business in the meat aisles with 40% of their patrons purchasing meat and poultry elsewhere.

Once shoppers have selected a store, 87% compare the prices of different cuts and types of meat before making their final decision. The total package price is also growing more important compared with the price per pound.

Meat sales promotions greatly influence the type of meat purchased as well as the quantity. Up by 7% from 2007, 58% of shoppers now buy meat in large quantities to portion up, freeze and use over time. They are also less brand-sensitive, both for fresh and processed meat, in their quest to save money. Shoppers preferring national brand processed meats, for example, dropped from 37% in 2008 to 29% in 2009.

Saving measures differ vastly by demographic. Younger shoppers are more likely to stock up on meat specials and buy cheaper cuts; bigger households are more likely to engage in all meat-saving behaviors, especially stocking up or trading down; and lower-income households are less likely to stock up on meat sales and more likely to trade down, the study reveals.

The growth of case-ready (prepackaged) meat sales continues with a median of 85% of total packages bought from the self-service meat-case area. Thirty percent purchase exclusively from the meat case without ever using the assistance of the full-service counter.

Meat continues to be a staple at American dinner tables, despite the economic difficulties. According to the study, the average family has five dinners at home per week, with an average of 3.9 of these meals including a meat item, down from 4.2 last year. Chicken and beef are the top meat choices.

Despite economic difficulties, health and well-being are still highly valued and food plays a major role, this year’s study found. Almost two-thirds of shoppers put some (46%) or a lot (20%) of effort into eating healthfully, but the rate of success is much lower. Despite best intentions to eat better, 51% say they succeed in doing so less than half the time. In fact, 13% say they never manage to eat a healthy diet.

As part of shoppers’ healthy-eating strategies, they most likely will cut back on portion sizes or second helpings, followed by eating fish or seafood more regularly. Some shoppers are also skipping meat (15%) or finding options with lower cholesterol (22%) on a regular basis. As for ingredients, shoppers’ focus is back to fat, calories, saturated fat and sodium.

Eighteen percent of shoppers stated they have purchased organic and/or natural meats in the past three months, down just 1% from last year.

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