Grocery store sales of meat by volume spiked at the onset of COVID-19 pandemic

This is a line graph showing the percent change in total U.S. retail sales by volume for all meats, comparing 2020 and 2019.

The stay-at-home orders implemented during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted the U.S. meat and poultry industries as consumers shifted from purchasing food-away-from-home (FAFH) to food-at-home (FAH). In the weeks before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, the volume of meat sold in grocery stores fluctuated modestly from between 3 percent below to 8 percent above 2019 sales. When the WHO declared a global pandemic the week ending March 15, 2020, the quantity of meat sold at grocery stores increased sharply to 75 percent above that week’s 2019 sales volume. Meat sales reached their pandemic peak the following week at 84 percent above 2019 sales. This increase in retail meat sales was consistent with overall consumer patterns in March–April 2020, when restaurant closures led to a surge in FAH sales relative to 2019 as FAFH sales fell. After the peak, weekly meat purchases slowed yet remained roughly 30 to 40 percent above 2019 sales for most weeks until mid-May. Sales may have slowed partly because consumers had stocked up on meat supplies in the previous weeks and because FAFH expenditures rose as COVID-related restrictions were lifted. For the remainder of 2020, total weekly sales of meat at retail remained higher than weekly 2019 sales for most weeks. This chart was drawn from the USDA, Economic Research Service COVID-19 working paper, “COVID-19 and the U.S. Meat and Poultry Supply Chains,” published February 3, 2022.

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