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U.S. retail meat demand for pork and beef both decreased in 2023
 
By Doug Schmitz
Iowa Correspondent

LAKEWOOD, Colo. – U.S. retail meat demand for pork and beef decreased in 2023, according to a recently released analysis from the Livestock Marketing Information Center.
“Retail pork demand had been gaining ground for several years after seeing a low point around 2012,” the center said in its Feb. 23 report. “Quarters show a similar story. First-quarter pork demand, in particular, has seen increases every year for the previous six, until 2023, which dropped 10 points.
“Third quarter saw a general rise since 2010, but peaked in 2020 at a level of 124 before dropping more than 20 points in 2021, and another 17 points in 2023,” the center added. “Fourth-quarter pork demand has been generally increasing since 2011, and also has peaked recently for the reference time period, reaching 129 in 2021. In the last two years, it fell to 100 and 103, respectively.”
The center calculates a meat demand index based on the Consumer Price Index level of 2000.
Andrew P. Griffith, University of Tennessee professor of agricultural and resource economics, told Farm World the Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.
“(The center) uses this index because beef is a good that fits in that basket, and it allows for the purchase of other goods that fit in that same basket,” he said.
“It is used to allow for a normal change in the price of a good, based on factors other than demand,” he added. “Thus, the change in beef price over a time period could be impacted by inflation or some other factor that is not demand-related, and that should not impact a demand calculation.”
The center said retail beef demand has had the best four years since 2000, and although 2023 showed a minor slip, it still was ahead of 2000-2019 index levels.
“First-quarter beef demand showed the largest decline falling from a very high index level of 134 down to 123,” the center said. “However, 2023 was still the second-highest index level back to 2000. Other quarters also saw declines, but many remained at a high level, relative to history.”
The center added U.S. dairy herd numbers fell to 9.32 million head in January, which is 76,000 head lower than last year, and the lowest figure since August 2019.
“New Mexico lost 42,000 head in the last year, posting several months of declines,” the center said. “New Mexico’s cow herd is now 240,000 head after decades of being larger than 300,000 head. Only two other states netted changes of greater than 10,000 head. Texas is down 15,000 head from a year ago, and South Dakota is up 21,000 head from 2022.
“U.S. milk cow numbers have been steadily moving lower since May of 2023,” the center added. “Totals for the 24 highest milk-producing states also came in lower than a year ago, and the lowest since May 2021. The 24-state total was 8.87 million head, 21,000 head lower than the previous month, and 49,000 head smaller than a year ago.”
The center said milk production per cow has also been decreasing. “The last two quarters of 2023 posted negative year-over-year figures, down 0.32 percent, and 0.07 percent, respectively,” adding January was off to a similar start.
When asked what factors led to the index being ahead from 2000-2019, despite the minor slip in meat demand for beef in 2023, Griffith said, “First, one must understand that demand is a quantity-and-price relationship.
“Simply stated, demand is what a consumer is willing to pay for a good or service,” he said. “In the instance of beef, strong beef demand began being noted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many people saw an increase in disposable income because they stopped traveling or going on vacation, going to the movies, eating meals away from home because it was thought those things contributed to the spread of the virus,” he added. “Thus, there was more disposable income to spend on food consumed at home.”
He said, “Many people decided to begin eating a little higher on the hog, or in this case, willing to pay more for beef than previously. I think the market saw a shift at this point because consumers figured out they could do a pretty good job cooking their own steak or other beef items, and they have continued that trend.
“However, as inflation and interest rates increased, it pulled more of the consumers’ disposable income back to other necessities such as housing, transportation, which meant there were not as many dollars to be spent on food,” he added. “Also, consumers have slowly shifted more of their disposable income back to vacations, and eating away from home.”
Tyler Cozzens, Livestock Marketing Information Center agricultural economist, told Farm World retail prices for both beef and pork have increased over the last few years, which has been a headwind to consumer meat demand.
“Prior to the pandemic, the all-fresh retail beef price was in the upper-$5 per pound range,” he said. “Post-pandemic, the all-fresh retail beef price has steadily climbed higher, with 2023 averaging $7.60 per pound, a nearly $2 per pound increase over the last four years.
“Part of the influencing factor on rising beef prices is lower beef supplies, which were just below 27 million pounds in 2023, the lowest since 2018,” he added.
He said retail pork prices have climbed about a $1 per pound over the last four years, with 2023 averaging $4.81 per pound.
“This has been a factor influencing pork demand as per capita consumption has ranged from about 50-52 pounds per person over the last four years, which is near the 49.8 pounds per person average over the last two decades,” he said.
When asked what the response of U.S. producers and retailers has been to this decrease in retail meat demand in 2023, Griffith said, “The main response is retail beef prices are not making further advances. I am not sure producers have responded much to beef demand due to other factors driving what they can and cannot do from a production standpoint.”
3/12/2024