Expectations confirmed: more meat sold at supermarkets and butchers during 2020, the year of the coronavirus crisis

March 4, 2021

In 2020, hospitality and catering facilities were forced to close their doors for much of the year. Dining at restaurants, hotel restaurants and other catering establishments was, therefore, not an option for most of 2020. We anticipated that this would have an impact on the amount of meat consumed (Dagevos et al., 2020). When people dine out, they often choose meat dishes. Since that was not an option for most of last year, it is reasonable to expect an increase in the amount of meat sold at supermarkets and butchers. The figures below confirm this expectation.

2018 2019 2020 2019:2018 2020:2019
Meat total 384,642 382,712 406,040 99.5% 106.1%
Meat products 148,874 148,432 149,705 99.7% 100.9%
Meat products : Meat 27.9% 27.9% 26.9%
Poultry 112,809 119,920 130,050 106.3% 108.4%
Meat products 11,908 11,954 12,228 100.4% 102.3%
Meat products : Meat 9.5% 9.1% 8.6%
Pork 166,837 159,367 164,066 95.5% 102.9%
Meat products 120,969 120,411 121,055 99.5% 100.5%
Meat products : Meat 42.0% 43.0% 42.5%
Beef 103.419 102.046 110.379 98,7% 108,2%
Meat products 15.857 15.954 16.315 100,6% 102,3%
Meat products : Meat 13,3% 13,5% 12,9%

Source: GfK, adaptation by WEcR (household volume in kilograms * 1000)

The Dutch government’s coronavirus measures have had a marked impact on the volume of fresh meat sold at supermarkets and butchers. Compared to 2019, there was an increase in the amount of meat sold through the retail channel in 2020. This increase is primarily attributable to meat and to a much lesser extent to meat products. In fact, meat products actually temper growth: the increase in meat excluding meat products is over 6%, while the increase in the total amount of meat and meat products combined is 4.6%.

This indicates that little has changed regarding breakfast and lunch, and that the biggest change concerns the evening meal at home. It is not sandwiches filled with meat and similar products ordered outside the home that are making the difference, but rather meat served during the main meal which has driven up demand at supermarkets and butchers.

The enduring popularity of chicken – the biggest riser at 8% – supports this suggestion, as does the marked increase in demand for beef, which has shown stable figures in recent years and in 2020 is suddenly on a par with poultry in terms of growth. If people cannot eat meat outside the home, demand for more expensive pieces of beef evidently increases. The coronavirus measures on meat consumption outside the home had a much more modest impact on pork: at almost 3%, the increase is the smallest of the three main categories of meat mentioned here. It would appear that the spare ribs that are eagerly consumed in cafés and beach restaurants do not necessarily end up on the plate at home.

Growth rates

The impact of the coronavirus measures introduced in 2020 can also be illustrated by comparing the ratios between 2019 (‘normal’ year) and 2020 (‘coronavirus’ year) and those between 2018 and 2019 (both ‘normal’ years). Whereas the latter showed a slight decline in sales figures in most cases, the difference between 2019 and 2020 shows growth across the board. The only decrease is a relative one: the proportion of meat products compared to meat decreased. This applies both to the total amount of meat and to each of the three types of meat individually. As mentioned above for the total amount of meat, this means that the increase in demand for meat in general is tempered by the demand for meat products: for poultry meat the increase is almost 8.5%, but comes to just under 8% when meat products are also taken into account; the increase in beef (over 8%) amounts to over 7% including meat products; the increase in pork (almost 3%) drops by around one percentage point to 2% when meat products are included.

The big picture

What implications will this increase in meat sales via supermarkets and butchers have for total meat consumption at the macro level? We previously wrote:

It would be surprising if the drop in demand for meat due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism and the catering industry would be fully compensated by an increase in turnover for butchers and supermarkets due to rising domestic meat consumption.
Dagevos et al., 2020: 12

The rising figures are a significant factor in the broader picture. For total meat consumption, it is assumed that approximately 50% of fresh meat and fresh meat products are sold through the retail channel (and if meat in the form of frozen products or products containing meat are also included, the estimated share rises above 50%).

It can be assumed that the fall in demand for meat from the catering industry is greater than the increase in meat sales in the retail sector. In 2020, the catering industry was only able to accommodate a limited number of guests. In this respect, it is a moot point that there were far fewer foreign tourists – who normally account for a proportion of meat consumption outside the home – due to the coronavirus pandemic, since for most of 2020 they would not have been able to eat in hotels or restaurants anyway, even if they had been there in large numbers.

There is also another reason to suspect that there will be a significant drop in demand for meat from the catering industry. Despite the fact that chefs have catered to customers in numerous ways online, and although food deliveries have been given an extra boost during the coronavirus pandemic, these developments do not compensate for the amount of meat that would normally have been consumed in the catering industry.

Calculations point to a reduction

In short, the figures from the retail sector do not as yet present a convincing case to change our previous forecast for the bigger picture. We still suspect that 2020, a year dominated by the coronavirus, will eventually show a decline in the total amount of meat consumed. We will know more in due course. In any case, the expected shift of meat purchases from the catering industry to butchers and supermarkets as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has already taken place.

This is perhaps less surprising than the fact that the growth in retail meat sales has remained below double digits. If this had not been the case, we would have been able to adjust our previous forecast of a reduction in the amount of meat consumed. While an additional 24.6 million kg of fresh meat sold at supermarkets and butchers is a considerable amount, it is still plausible to assume that the calculation of the overall figures for 2020 will show a reduction in meat consumption.