The stats are in and Memorial Day weekend beef sales were disappointing, not exactly the great kickoff to the summer grilling season we wanted. More of a pooch punt on third down, giving the beef industry a few more months before handing off our long-time center of the plate summer dominance to other proteins. Observers suggested stormy weather on the East coast, plus historically high prices, were two major reasons for all those “no sale” register ring ups at the local A&P or Piggly Wiggly.
Fortunately the Memorial Day weekend isn’t to beef producers like the Christmas season is to toy manufacturers. The weather will always get better – and worse – so we have plenty of time to make up for issuing a ‘May Day’ distress call on May 27. The real sales killer that must be addressed, of course, is the price of a pound of beef.
What will American beef eaters pay this summer? Let’s look at this week’s specials, knowing that these prices will rise from time-to-time. Here in the Midwest, Hy-Vee is selling Amana Choice KC strips for $6.99 each. To be more accurate, a 12 ounce cut is $10.48 or $13.95/pound. Fresh ground beef (85/15) is $3.99/pound.
Those weather-beaten folks on the East coast will pay about the same to shop at their local Piggly Wiggly. Their Charleston, SC, store is advertising ground chuck at $4.89, C.A.B. New York strips at $12.99, and boneless sirloin at $8.99. A look at the weekly ad for Ralph’s Groceries in San Diego made me think they’ve decided to ignore their red meat department. A 16 page flyer mentioned just U.S.D.A. Choice T-bone at $8.99 and lean ground beef (80/20) at $3.49. Prices for both of those items were available to store card holders only. Chicken and that ‘other white meat’ took up the rest of the meat department ad space.
The average price of a pound of ground beef between 1984 and 2003 stayed under $2.00/pound, making it one of the biggest bargains to ever land on the center of the plate. It started to creep up, though, and first touched $2.50 in 2010. The $3.00 barrier was breached just one short year afterwards. This Memorial Day, it spiked at an all-time high of $3.51. If you consider that most retailers say ground beef is the single most price sensitive product in the meat case, you’ll understand why that long holiday weekend was a major under-performer.
Here is more reason to fear for the future of the beef business. In 1984, the per capita consumption of beef was 63 pounds, down about one third from its peak of 94 pounds in 1976. As the price of beef began trending upwards, consumption followed a downward slope, dropping to just 55 pounds last year.