Disappearing barbecues show global beef demand is under pressure
Since the beginning of the pandemic, consumers around the world have restricted their meat consumption.
n 2022 came the slump in demand for beef, and even as inflation eases, all signs point to continued pressures this year, particularly in some of the world’s most carnivorous nations.
It’s not uncommon for meat buying to decline during economic downturns. Notably, demand is falling at a faster rate in many countries where beef has traditionally been the protein of choice.
In Brazil, consumption was on track for a record low in 2022. US shoppers have reduced their purchases by more than 4% over the past year, data from NielsenIQ shows, while UK sales of roast beef and steaks have plummeted.
Perhaps no place captures the trend better than Argentina. Argentina’s barbecue, or asado as locals call it, is so woven into the national fabric that consumption has proven resilient to belt tightening in even some of the worst recessions.
Recent soaring prices in the nation, long known for eating more beef than almost anywhere else, are forcing consumers to forgo chicken, which is now vying for the title of the country’s best protein.
Omar Anibal Sosa, a 41-year-old father of three living in Buenos Aires, is wistful as he recalls his last asado more than a month ago, which feels like an eternity in Argentina.
He can recall the menu, which he reluctantly replaced with once irreplaceable short ribs and flanks with inferior cuts of skirt steak and chicken and pork. And he bought the beef by asking the butcher to cut him a lean steak or two instead of ordering by the kilo as usual.
“I used to fire up the grill every weekend,” says Sosa, who works as a handyman and delivery driver at the church.
“Nowadays, barbecuing is a luxury,” he said.
For 2023, the US Department of Agriculture forecasts consumption to remain roughly the same worldwide. However, there is a pronounced decline in some of the largest beef markets.
In Argentina, the agency sees a drop of more than 2%. A decline of almost 5% is expected for the USA.
It can be difficult to pinpoint the fall in demand accurately, as most forecasters use meat production as the basis for their consumption estimates. Some of the best indicators of declining interest in beef come from a combination of retail sales tracking and anecdotal information.
Slowing demand signals headwinds for the world’s largest beef producers, including JBS SA and Tyson Foods Inc. Companies are also grappling with droughts that are shrinking herds, higher input costs and increasing pressure from investors to produce meat more sustainably.
The pressure on beef demand is welcome news for the planet. By some standards, agriculture causes more global greenhouse gas emissions than transport, thanks in large part to animal husbandry.
At Made in Hackney, a vegan community cooking school in east London, founder Sarah Bentley says she’s noticed a change in people’s attitudes since the school started a decade ago.
Lenses that were once considered unfashionable and “a little hip” are now a huge hit among their customers. Cooking courses book up quickly. Most students aren’t vegans or vegetarians, but they’re interested in affordable food, she said.
“You can’t argue with the price,” said Bentley.
In the UK, purchases of beef from grocers and restaurants are down 5.8% year-on-year, with sales of roasts down 22%, according to data compiled by agricultural adviser AHDB. Purchases of steaks fell by about 19%.
Many of the consumption changes will appear subtle. People will trade cuts of meat, and proteins will become beef first, then pork and chicken. Dishes like spaghetti bolognese get less meat in the sauce and are instead topped up with extra tomatoes or water.
“Meat is something that gets hit pretty quickly, especially for low-income consumers,” said Rupert Claxton, a consultant at Gira who has been studying the meat industry for about two decades.
In the US, Michael Roberts, head of marketing at a nonprofit in Oak Park, Illinois, saw his former business as a consultant dry up during the pandemic while his partner was diagnosed with brain cancer.
As their incomes dwindled and healthcare spending rose, Roberts and his partner reduced their meat consumption from four to twice a week, typically substituting pinto beans, lentils and rice for beef and chicken.
“The red meat fell by the wayside,” said Roberts, 57, who struggles with low iron levels. “It really doesn’t come into the house anymore. We’ve substituted a lot of meatless meals, which can be healthy and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s mostly beans, rice and lentils for the protein.”
Certainly, it’s still too early to tell if the trend will continue globally. Many economists still expect consumption to increase in some places over the next decade as populations grow and consumers in Asia and other emerging markets eat more beef.
Back in Argentina, per capita consumption of beef is estimated to reach 47.2 kilograms in 2022, according to beef industry group Ciccra. That compares to a modern record of 68.7 in 2007.
Chicken consumption has increased to nearly 100 pounds from two decades ago, thanks to its competitive price, data from the Rosario Board of Trade shows.
It feels like a dismantling of national identity for a country that traditionally rivals neighboring Uruguay for the title of the world’s largest carnivore on a per capita basis.
The country’s government said about a year ago that it would try to keep beef consumption above 50 kilos per person through measures such as export quotas. But so far, that goal is proving unattainable and inflation is raging. Annual food inflation in Buenos Aires was 97.5% in December, according to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics.
For consumers like Sosa, the father of three, the outdoor grill, once a community point of great pride, has instead become a painful reminder of what was.
“It never looked so deserted before,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/agri-business/agri-food/disappearing-barbecues-show-global-beef-demand-is-under-pressure-42318534.html Disappearing barbecues show global beef demand is under pressure