In many ways, life is just as busy, if not busier, than it was pre-pandemic.

But most Americans are still doing a lot more cooking than they did way back in the pre-COVID days of 2019. While initially many people enthusiastically invested in pots, pans, knives and cutting boards, fatigue has set in and people are back to juggling many things in a day, said 210 Analytics' Anne-Marie Roerink. They’re looking for short cuts, and are willing to pay a little more to save a little time.

“We see it in everything from online shopping to convenience-focused solutions such as value-added meat, fully-cooked meat and deli-prepared meats. It’s clear that consumers continue on the path of the hybrid meal. Meaning, they prepare some items from scratch and mix that with convenience-focused solutions from the frozen aisle, refrigerated section or even the deli.”

That may be pre-marinated meat, a meal kit, having items such as fajita meat right next to cut peppers and onions or fully cooked meat, including deli prepared. Some days, consumers cook the meat from scratch and combine it with some convenience-focused options in produce or starches. Other days, they scratch cook the vegetable and use heat-and-eat meat solutions. It’s that hybrid meal where retailers can make big inroads in being a helping hand in inspiration and execution.

Food shoppers will find more freshly prepared and semi-prepared chicken products in the meat department, said the National Chicken Council's Tom Super.

“They want convenience but they also want to continue using the heightened cooking skills they achieved during the pandemic,” he said. “Fresh and fully-cooked chicken sausages for breakfast, dinner, and in-between are capturing more consumer interest and usage. As some of these sausage flavors prove to be long-term winners, it can be expected to see these flavors being offered as marinades in boneless/skinless breasts and thighs.”


Healthy choices

People are paying more attention to what is and isn’t in the food they eat, but more than anything, health is part of a bigger better-for equation that includes the animal, the planet, the community and social and economic responsibility in general, Roerink said.

“We can’t just single out nutritional health as a single change agent that drives different choices in meat today, but rather the collective value system relative to health, planet, animal, etc.”

For instance, claims such as organic are still driving above-average gains. Some consumers believe organic is healthier, others see it as a choice that is better for the planet. Likewise, some are opting for smaller portions of meat for health, others believe cutting back on meat is better for the planet.

“I don’t think we can separate these drivers all that easily, which is precisely why I’m such a big fan of NAMI’s Protein Pact,” she said. “It’s important for the industry to drive permissibility (meat belongs in the diet) and favorability (meat tastes amazing) through high levels of trust in animal agriculture.”

With the pandemic reinforcing the importance of health for so many Americans, the appeal of a lean, vitamin-rich protein like turkey is clear, the National Turkey Federation's Beth Breeding said.

“Consumers are increasingly shopping with health and well-being in mind. Highlighting turkey’s healthy eating factor, including how easy it is to swap ground turkey for other proteins, is a great way to reach the growing audience of health-conscious eaters.”