For nearly a decade, red meat and pork consumption in the U.S. has been falling. According to USDA, U.S. beef production dropped 15% while pork consumption dropped 4% during the past ten years. And despite the growing number of vegetarians and "flexitarians" in the U.S., this drop can't be attributed to these dietary changes alone: during the same time frame, broiler chicken consumption jumped 5%. So what exactly is happening that is causing consumption to drop?
It's no secret that American consumers are often enraptured with fad diets that change their eating habits, and they are also prone to latching onto health advice that may not be in their best interest. Often, this means omitting specific types of foods. For example, U.S. consumers turned away from eggs in the 1960s due to warnings against high-cholesterol diets only to find out in 2015 that such warnings were likely unnecessary. It's likely that waning interest in the Atkins diet helped push meat consumption down a bit, but USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) believes something else is in play.
According to ERS, beef prices jumped nearly 53% between 2006 and 2016 as supplies became tighter. During the same time frame, broiler chicken prices only rose by 12%, giving consumers an economic incentive to switch from red meat to chicken. ERS also notes that other factors that could influence the trend include "growing health concerns about red meat intake and increased availability of convenience chicken products, such as skinless, boneless breasts and ready-to-serve offerings."
However, ERS does not foresee this trend continuing for much longer. Instead, it argues the U.S. will undergo a noticeable shift during the next years due to increases in beef and pork production. According to USDA, beef production should rise by 11.7% during the timeframe, while pork production will jump 10.3%. Simultaneously, it predicts that prices will decline, according to baseline projections from USDA, due to lower feed costs and increasing domestic and foreign demand. According to the report:
"As a result of the anticipated expansion in production, beef and pork prices are projected to drop 10.6% and 11.6%, respectively, over the period, driving up demand for beef and pork and reversing a multiyear decline in meat consumption in the U.S. Per capita consumption of beef is forecast to increase by 2.7% by 2025, outpacing growth in consumption of broilers and pork, which are projected to rise by 2.3% and 1.7% during the same period. The rise in beef and pork consumption will increase the total amount of meat consumed per person in the U.S. from 211 lbs. in 2015 to nearly 219 lbs. by 2025."
Will American consumers flock back to red meat and pork? That remains to be seen. But ERS does lay out an interesting and thorough explanation on how it could happen during the next ten years.