SAN ANTONIO – The sight of half-full and nearly-empty meat cases was common across the US last week as consumers rushed to stock up on meat and poultry over concerns of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).  

Retailers stocked and restocked their meat cases, which according to research from 210 Analytics LLC and IRI, resulted in meat sales (minus deli meat) soaring with a 76.9% increase for the week of March 15 versus a comparable week in 2019. Fresh deli sales rose 40.4%. 

Within individual meat categories, turkey saw the highest sales jump of 96.1%, followed by pork at 89.2%, chicken at 76.5%, beef at 73.1% and lamb at 54.5%. Just 12 weeks ago, those sales increases ranged from 4.5-9.8%. Beef and chicken were the largest categories, raking in $376 million and $183 million respectively. 

Volume sales for the week of March 15 were up 68.7%, made possible by processing plants increasing capacity and foodservice distributors diverting supplies to food retail. 

210 Analytic’s Anne-Marie Roerink and IRI’s Chris DuBois spoke with Winn-Dixie, Jacksonville, Fla., shopper Mike Freeman as he grabbed the last few packages of ground beef.  

“Normally, I don’t freeze any meat and prefer to just buy it fresh every few days. But it can’t hurt to have a little extra,” Freeman said as he moved toward ground turkey and lamb, which he doesn’t usually buy. “I’ve tried ground turkey a time or two, but I’ve never cooked lamb before. It looks just like ground beef or bison, so how hard can it be? And it’s simply slim pickings.” 

Ground meat sales rose from 53.2-99.7% depending on the type of meat, with beef being the most popular. Among beef products, ground beef was the most purchased followed by chuck and ribeyes. 

In the chicken category chicken breasts, thighs and legs saw the largest sales increases. In pork, loins, ribs, shoulder blades and smoked pork and ham were the biggest sellers. The deli category had the largest success with deli turkey and ham. 

Roerink and DuBois anticipate sales to continue climbing in the coming weeks.