As more Americans receive their COVID-19 vaccination and some local restrictions begin to ease, the food service industry is starting the process of reclaiming its share of the consumer food dollar.
Meat demand has been very strong over the past year, with meat sales at retail outlets up 18% by volume over the past year, according to information from the National Pork Board.
That includes a 19% increase in pork sales, says Kiersten Hafer of One Mind LLC, who works on strategic and consumer insights with the National Pork Board.
She says as people stayed home due to COVID-19, they looked for dishes they could make at home. That meant more people were looking for information on how to use meat products they may not have used much prior to the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“The consumer cooked more and became more knowledgeable about cooking meat,” Hafer says. “Forty-three percent of shoppers are still buying more meat than prior to the pandemic.”
She says fresh pork purchases have increased across the board. The percentage of households purchasing pork is up 5%, and more households are repeat customers.
Hafer says the data also suggests that consumers will continue to cook more at home, and that 42% are buying different cuts of meat than they did prior to the pandemic.
But as they open up, several restaurant chains are looking to promote pork, says Neal Hull, director of channel marketing for the National Pork Board.
One of those restaurants is IHOP. Hull says the pork board has partnered with IHOP to develop its Bacon Obsession Menu that launched April 13.
“More than 50% of IHOP customers order bacon,” Hull says.
The limited-time menu includes steakhouse premium bacon that is being used in burgers, pancakes and even a milk shake.
Hull says IHOP is the first national family dining restaurant chain to serve a premium bacon item. Steakhouse premium bacon is made with pork belly that is cut and finished “to consumer preferences,” he said.
Other partners such as Sam’s Club and EG America are prominently featuring various cuts of pork. Hull says more and more uses are being developed for ground pork, which saw a surge in popularity over the past 13 months.
Hafer says more and more consumers are using items such as air fryers and the InstaPot to prepare their meals, and that has helped boost the popularity of cooking meat.
“The InstaPot is really foolproof cooking,” she says. “You are seeing more and more recipes developed for these machines because they are here to stay.”