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October 31, 2009

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Prime cuts are now at-home dinner fare in US

MEAT-LOVING consumers in the United States are eating out less, but they aren't forgoing taste and quality.

They're just eating those prime- and choice-grade steaks at home, researchers say.

Beginning in 2008, cash-strapped consumers shifted to at-home dining. So meat companies are now shipping more of their restaurant fare to grocery stores, according to data presented on Thursday at the Worldwide Food Expo.

"Before, if you wanted a great steak you had to go to a restaurant. Now you can get it in the grocery store," said Merrill Shugoll, president of Shugoll Research.

Supermarket sales of all meat have risen this year, and Shugoll sees better sales ahead. That's because meat prices are down and supermarkets are aggressively marketing meat.

Shugoll and Michael Uetz, a principal at Midan Marketing, reported a 12-percent increase in volume of supermarket meat and poultry sales in the third quarter, compared with a year earlier.

However, they acknowledged those year-ago sales were "horrible."

The majority of respondents to an on-line survey, taken this autumn, said their meat and poultry purchases have increased or were unchanged since January.

Sales data showed that sales remain strong for lower-priced meats such as ground beef, hot dogs and chicken drumsticks. But there was a noticeable increase in sales of higher-priced premium meats.

The sales volume of more-expensive "premium" steaks was up 15.5 percent in the third quarter from a year ago, versus a 13.2-percent rise in "regular" steaks.

"It all comes down to retailers seeing opportunity because food service is hurting," said Uetz.

Meat continues to be prominently featured in weekly newspaper advertisements and at attractive prices.

"All of the data is looking positive for the meat and poultry industries and we are hoping that it will continue," Shugoll said of supermarket meat sales.

Eventually, meat prices should increase because production of beef, pork and chicken is down, said Uetz.

The smaller supply has not yet pushed up prices because consumers continue to control spending. But if the economy improves and demand stabilizes, the smaller supply could mean higher prices, he said.


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