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Meat & poultry trends: America runs on chicken, and beef really is what’s for dinner

Plant-based products and diets have been center stage as of late, making it easy to overlook that many consumers are still very interested in actual meat and poultry.

5 min read

Consumer Insights

meat burger


Beyond Meat, the company pioneering plant-based burger patties and sausages, has received backing from high-profile investors like actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Tyson while Impossible Foods, which is behind the famed veggie-based Impossible Burger that even bleeds like meat, is also continuing to gain traction, now available at hundreds of restaurants across the country (including chains like Chicago-based M Burger). There’s no denying the upward trend plant-based products and diets have had recently (the term “vegan” has grown over 100% on US menus over the past four years, according to Datassential MenuTrends), but as attention shifts to “meat” grown in petri dishes and labs or constructed from vegetables, it can be easy to overlook what many consumers are still very interested in: actual meat and poultry.

While terms like vegan, vegetarian and plant-based are certainly buzz-y currently, according to a recent Datassential study, 71% of consumers describe themselves as meat eaters, and 55% say they plan on staying meat eaters in the future (only a quarter say they plan to move toward flexitarianism, which promotes reducing but not eliminating meat). Here’s a sampling of what we found from putting together our Meat & Poultry SNAP! Keynote Report and how you can expand your selection of tried-and-true meat options.

Beef and chicken – consumer favorites that aren’t going anywhere

Looking to add more meat to your menu? You can’t go wrong with chicken or beef, which are consumers’ top two favorite proteins (also two of their most-loved foods in general).

Chicken, beef and pork are menued at more than 90% of all restaurants, but despite already being ubiquitous throughout foodservice and retail, these power proteins are still holding their own on menus and growing steadily, with consumption increasing both at home and away from home. About 20% of consumers say they’re eating more beef and pork than a year ago, and a third say the same about chicken. Although beef and chicken are often thought of as center-of-plate entrée options, only a quarter of consumers’ most recent meat or poultry meal appeared in a COP application, opening opportunities around other menu parts.

With the growth of trendy shared plates and the rise of snacking as its own daypart, it makes sense that most meat and poultry growth on restaurant menus has been clustered around appetizers and sides. Capitalize on that growth by taking inspiration from meaty flatbread or charcuterie appetizers or sides (take bacon for example, which is no longer just an indulgent breakfast side but also adding flavor to side dishes like loaded potatoes or brussels sprouts). At eight-location Belcampo Meat Co., a butcher shop-restaurant concept, diners will find a variety of meaty infusions throughout the menu, including unique appetizer options like French Dip Éclairs (with bone broth jus for dipping) and bread served with lardo butter.

Take a stake in these growing meat opportunities – both in retail and at foodservice

When it comes to meat and poultry, both consumers and operators tend to gravitate toward quick-cooking, cost-effective cuts – ground beef is one of the most menued forms of beef on restaurant menus, and it’s also the most commonly purchased cut at retail. The same convenience factor goes for chicken, as nearly 60% of consumers say they purchase white meat chicken (breasts and tenders) the most regularly. While these cuts are popular, expand beyond them by thinking outside the box. In retail, consider featuring meat cuts like shoulder (one of the fastest-growing pork formats on menus today) in fan favorite applications such as BBQ pulled pork. At retail, market these tougher-to-cook cuts alongside products that can cut down on cooking time while maximizing flavor (Athens, GA-based Fire & Flavor offers ready-to-use packaged pork brine, for example).

Capitalize on products that can meet consumer needs surrounding convenience by taking consumer behavior to heart (Datassential’s study included insights from over 1,000 consumers). When asked about innovative meat products they’d like to see in retail, one shopper said they wanted “good quality, pre-cooked meat crumbles” that could be easily used when strapped for time. Operators also echo the sentiment of easier prep, voicing wants for products that come pre-seasoned or pre-marinated. Add flavor and even more meaty goodness to existing meat and poultry dishes with trending items like andouille sausage, the spicy Cajun classic that’s growing on menus and adding flair to a variety of items, from BJ Restaurant & Brewery’s New Orleans Jambalaya, blackened chicken, shrimp, and chick-andouille sausage, to breakfast dishes, like the creole omelet with rock shrimp and andouille at Louisville, Ky.-based Wild Eggs.

Even as plant-based alternatives continue to create buzz throughout the industry, don’t let meat and poultry fall by the wayside. According to our report, nearly half of consumers say they have tried or would try meat alternatives, but at the same time, almost 70% have no interest in items such as lab-grown meat. For additional insights on how to balance meaty trends with those of the plant world, ask us about our full SNAP! Keynote Report, which also contains data on duck, turkey (and how to move beyond Thanksgiving LTOs), sausage (a bright spot on menus that can be made with meat or poultry), and more.

Renee Lee Wege is the senior publications specialist at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis, and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase the SNAP! Keynote Report: Meat & Poultry mentioned in this article, contact Datassential managing director Brian Darr at [email protected].


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