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Meatless Monday comes for Memorial Day

UPDATED: Fri., May 28, 2021

A meatless burger patty called Beyond Burger by Beyond Meat is displayed at a grocery store in Richmond, Va., in June 2019.  (Steve Helber)
A meatless burger patty called Beyond Burger by Beyond Meat is displayed at a grocery store in Richmond, Va., in June 2019. (Steve Helber)
By Leslie Patton and Daniela Sirtori-Cortina Bloomberg

As U.S. consumers prep the grill for the unofficial start of the summer with the Memorial Day holiday weekend, more than 1 in 3 Americans may be sidestepping the burgers and brats in favor of meatless alternatives.

Among U.S. adults, 35% say they are currently making a conscious effort to consume less meat, according to a recent survey conducted by Morning Consult for Bloomberg News. Hispanic shoppers in particular are trying to curb their intake.

Of those U.S. shoppers trying to cut back on meat, a desire to save money was cited as one of the top reasons. Prices for grocery items across the board, especially red meat, have been rising due to soaring commodity prices, transportation costs and challenges securing labor.

Bone-in ribeye steaks cost an average of $11.10 a pound at major supermarkets for the week ended May 27, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show, up 34% versus the same time last year.

“Consumers will certainly take note of that and gravitate toward other protein items that tend to be more price conscious, so your ground beef or chicken breast,” said Isaac Olvera, food and agricultural economist at ArrowStream, a supply-chain software company.

Health concerns around eating too much meat were also a top reason Americans said they were dialing back. That’s good news if that message is getting through, said Sylvia Ley, assistant professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

“Shortly before the pandemic, we were seeing an increase in meat consumption in the U.S., especially among certain ethnic and racial populations such as Hispanic Americans. This was concerning because high intake of processed red meat was associated with higher risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes,” she said.

Overall, the USDA projects that Americans will eat less red meat and poultry this year compared with 2020. On average, people will consume 223.9 pounds – a slight drop from 225.2 pounds last year and below 2019 levels. It’s expected to inch lower again in 2022, though only by a fraction of a pound.

“We’re probably going to see somewhat more muted consumption moving forward based on overall tightening supplies and production of poultry and red meat,” Olvera said.

While the idea of Americans cooking up fewer hot dogs and steaks on Memorial Day might conjure up concerns for major producers like Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc., even the world’s largest meat companies have gotten on the plant bandwagon. Pork behemoth Smithfield pushed into the market for plant protein in 2019, and Tyson earlier this month unveiled a lineup of 100% vegan meat products including fresh patties, ground “beef,” fake bratwurst and Italian sausage.

But while plant-based alternatives get all the buzz, it’s beans and vegetables that those Americans who say they’re eating less meat are primarily swapping in instead. Seafood and eggs are also top beneficiaries, the data show.

Still, just because consumers say they’re eating less meat doesn’t mean they necessarily are. “For several years in the U.S., there’s been surveys where you ask somebody, ‘are you going to reduce your meat consumption,’ and a lot of people will say yes,” said Glynn Tonsor, professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University. “They think that’s the right answer, so they say ‘yes, I’m going to cut back.’ Often we do not see that matched with actual consumption data.”

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