Consumers seeking ‘health and adventure’ in meat choices, Nielsen

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 18th December 2013

Diversifying palates and a focus on health in North America are driving increased demand for a range of “atypical meats” at the dinner table, according to global market research organisation Nielsen.

In the year to 29 June 2012, sales of not-so-typical meats such as buffalo, venison, duck and various offals (organ meats) grew an average of 6 per cent in the US and combined sales figures reached more than US$350 million.

As US consumers continue to focus on health and gain experience with exotic meats in restaurants — where Nielsen said most ‘trendy’ foods get their start — the upward sales growth is staged to continue. By focusing on health-minded consumer demands and an understanding of regional, seasonal and cultural preferences, retailers can take charge as exotic meat market leaders.

Healthy alternatives for ‘high society’

Health is a big driver of recent sales trends, according to Nielsen, as many consumers perceive exotic meats to be ‘healthier’ protein options than traditional meats.

Recent Nielsen findings showed that couples and families with ‘healthy’ lifestyles, as well as ‘natural/organic’ households, purchase buffalo, venison and duck most, and these households tend to be affluent. Their exotic cuts of choice most often included ground venison and buffalo, buffalo steaks, venison medallions and tenderloins, and whole ducks.

Preferences for exotic proteins also appear to be migrating geographically, according to Nielsen. Buffalo had the greatest dollar sales in the western US in 2012, but is now showing high growth in all regions except the East, where venison is more popular. A decline in buffalo distribution in the East, where venison had almost twice as many impressions (count of unique items selling) than other regions in 2012, has contributed to the trend, according to Nielsen.

Duck has been growing in popularity across regions, but consumers typically bought it for different occasions than buffalo and venison, according to Nielsen. Most duck sales occurred in the first and fourth quarters of the year, which feature Chinese New Year and Christmas — two popular occasions to serve duck.

Cultural influences on consumption trends

Strong sales and notable growth of duck and chicken fat in the first quarter show that cultural diversity in the US is having an influence on consumer tastes for exotic meats, Nielsen found.

US Census data showed that more than 60 per cent of the total US population growth in 2012 came from immigration. It also showed that Asians were the fastest-growing ethnic group in the US. These consumers still have strong ties to traditional Asian cuisine, which boosted the sales of the exotic meats that are popular during Chinese New Year, the most important Asian holiday, as well as the sales of chicken feet, which are eaten throughout the year in many Asian dishes and as snacks.

Culture played a role in the sales of various other offals as well, according to Nielsen. Hispanics represented the second-largest ethnic group in the US at 17 per cent of the US population, and the growth of this demographic was also reflected in meat purchases. For example, Hispanic households purchased the most lamb offals and they also led the purchasing for veal and beef offals in the year ended June 2012.

Nielsen said that retailers and food manufacturers who were aware of market demographics — and regional, seasonal and cultural influences within the category — would be able to “capitalise on these up-and-coming proteins”.

Consumers increasingly seeking 'health and adventure' from meat choices