U.S. meat consumption is down, and beef consumption in particular has lost ground, according to the 2013 “Power of Meat” study. Price is a key reason for the decline as beef prices have climbed through a period of tight consumer budgets, but other factors also are involved.

The report, published by the American Meat Institute and the Food Marketing Institute with funding from Cryovac, illustrates the challenges and opportunities the beef industry faces in building sales and market share.

According to the survey results, consumers on average prepare 5.1 home-cooked dinners each week, with 3.6 of those including a portion of meat or poultry, down from 4.1 meals last year. Respondents on average eat 0.9 dinners out each week and order out or carry home the remaining dinner. The report does not cover the contents of the restaurant or home-delivery meals.

The number of consumers reporting they include meat in at least one dinner per week, at 93 percent, was down just one percentage point from 2012 and has held steadily at 93 or 94 percent since 2009. However, just 69 percent report including meat in dinners at least three times per week, compared with 74 percent last year, and 18 percent include a meat item six times per week compared with 23 percent in 2012.

Much of the decline occurred in beef, which is not surprising since beef has experienced larger price increases than pork or poultry in recent years. The report shows retail beef prices increased by 7.4 percent over the past year, and pound sales of beef dropped by 6.3 percent. In contrast, pork prices increased by 0.8 percent and pound sales of pork declined by just 0.3 percent. Chicken prices increased by 4.4 percent, but chicken remains the lowest-priced meat available, and pound sales increased by just under 1 percent.

In addition to price, some consumers indicate health and nutritional concerns as reasons for cutting back on beef or meat in general.

Within the beef category, the report notes many consumers are “trading down” to lower-priced products such as ground beef instead of steak or 80 percent lean ground beef instead of 90 percent lean. Some consumers in higher income groups meanwhile, increasingly trade up to higher-priced meat items as their financial outlook improves.

The report points out that meat shoppers are a diverse group, with different priorities depending on age, gender, region and family status, but the biggest influencing factor is income. Shoppers in the low end of the income scale, with household incomes of $15,000 to $25,000 per year, include meat items in an average of 3.4 dinners per week. That number increases with every step up in household income, with those earning more than $150,000 including meat items in 4.3 dinners per week.

The recession temporarily slowed growth in the more expensive “natural” and “organic” categories, but that growth has picked up again, particularly among higher-income groups.  The percentage of people who have purchased natural and organic rose to 26 percent in 2013, and nearly one-quarter of current shoppers expect they will purchase more natural and organic meat and poultry. The main reason consumers purchase these products is a perception they have positive long-term health benefits.

The authors point out that the industry and retailers have an opportunity to boost sales by educating consumers about meat and meat preparation. For example, survey results indicate 40 percent of consumers consider themselves “very knowledgeable” on how to prepare beef, pork or lamb, while 49 percent say they manage and 11 percent say they could use help. Thirty-one percent consider themselves very knowledgeable about the USDA grading system while 54 say they get by and 15 acknowledge they could use help. Just 21 percent consider themselves very knowledgeable about the nutritional content of different cuts of meat, while 59 percent get by and 20 say they could use help.

The full report is available for purchase from the Food Marketing Institute.