by David Widmar
Good news for U.S. agriculture: consumers are eating more meat. After turning lower on the heels of the Great Recession, U.S. meat consumption – including beef – is expected to continue higher into 2018. This week’s post takes a look at consumption trends and what the USDA expects for 2018.
U.S. Meat Consumption
Throughout this post, we will talk about per capita consumption. It is important to note the USDA reports these data as per capita meat disappearance. This measure is the residual of production, beginning and ending inventories, import, and export data. In other words, the USDA does not explicitly measure consumption but offers a proxy measure that is essentially consumption. When discussing consumption, we are truly reporting the USDA’s measure of meat disappearances.
Figure 1 shows the per capita consumption of total red meat and poultry since 1970. After peaking at nearly 222 pounds in 2007, total meat consumption collapsed, corresponding to the U.S. Great Recession, to a low of 202 pounds by 2013. Overall, U.S. per capita meat consumption declined 9% in seven years.
Since 2014, consumption has turned higher. Recently, per capita consumption was estimated at 217 pounds in 2017 and is expected to increase to nearly 223 pounds in 2018.
The recovery in consumption is impressive from a historical perspective. Figure 2 shows the annual percentage change in per capita consumption of red meat and poultry since 1971. Begining in 2014, annual changes in consumption have been positive. Historically, it is not common to have four consecutive years of consumption growth. Of course, the preceding six years of consecutive decline in consumption were also unusual (2007 to 2012).
If the current estimates hold true, U.S. per capita consumption of red meat and poultry will reach a historical record in 2018, one pound above pre-recession levels.
The recovery in consumption has been especially impressive for beef. Broadly, beef consumption has trended downward since the 1970s (figure 1). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, beef consumption was nearly 80 pounds per capita. Consumption dipped to 65 pounds in the 1990s and early 2000s before reaching a low of 54 pounds in 2014. In 2017, beef consumption climbed to 57 pounds. This is expected to increase to more than 59 pounds in 2018. Since the late 1970s, U.S. beef consumption has not had an increase as significant as the 5-pound increase currently expected (a 9% increase since 2015).
It is important to note, however, beef consumption has not recovered to pre-recession levels at nearly 65 pounds. Even though consumption has failed to return to pre-Recession levels, recent developments are significant in that consumption has turned higher.
Beef consumption has rarely had three consecutive years of growth (figure 2). Recently, however, annual changes in consumption have exceeded 2% annually since 2015. The last three years have been the best growth in per capita beef consumption since the early 1970s.
While total meat consumption has trended higher (figure 1) and beef has trended lower (figure 3) since the 1970s, per capita pork consumption has been notably stable around 50 pounds annually. After the Recession, consumption fell to as little as 46 pounds – the lowest levels since the 1970s – but is expected to reach nearly 52 pounds in 2018 – the highest levels since 2003.
Not surprising, poultry consumption has dramatically trended higher since the 1970s (figure 6). Before 1975, total poultry consumption was less than 50 pounds. By 2003, per capita consumption exceeded 100 pounds. Even poultry consumption retreated during the Recession to 98 pounds. Consumption, however, was quick to recover as it reached record highs by 2015. In 2018, consumption is expected to reach 112 pounds per capita.
Strong growth in poultry consumption over time- compared to steady pork and lower beef consumption – has resulted in poultry accounting for a more significant share of total U.S. per capita consumption. Figure 7 shows the share of total red meat and poultry consumption (figure 1) that red meat represents. In the 1970s, red meat accounted for more than 70% of total meat consumption. This share has precipitously trended lower over time and currently sits at 50%.
Wrapping it Up
Per capita meat consumption in the U.S. is expected to increase in 2018. This is important, good news for agriculture.
For poultry, the increase is a “return to normal” as strong growth in per capita consumption has been the norm for nearly five decades. For pork, the increase returns consumption to the long-run, stable levels. Beef consumption, which has mounted its most substantial growth since the early 1970s, has yet to return to pre-recession level.
In total, meat consumption (total red meat and total poultry) is expected to set new highs in 2018. Forecasted at 223 pounds per person per year, consumption would be 1 pound above the previous, pre-Recession highs.