US Consumers Drifting Back Into Old Meat-Buying Habits

US consumers may be drifting back to pre-recession meat-buying habits – buying more meat and willing to pay more to get it.  This could help explain why wholesale beef prices continue tickling record highs.\r\n   The Food Marketing Institute and the American Meat Institute Tuesday published its ninth annual Power of Meat Survey results, which explored purchasing, preparation and consumption trends through the eyes of the shopper.\r\n   The survey showed that shoppers, rather than just trying to spend less on meat, as they did immediately following the 2008 recession, are now focused on value, quality and variety.  \r\n   The number of home-prepared meals containing meat or poultry increased slightly to 3.8 dinners per week from 3.6 a year ago.  But the number of heat-and-eat and ready-to-eat items also increased, as a third of consumers were undecided on whether to cook or eat out as little as two hours ahead of dinner time, suggesting value-added products offer opportunity for the meat and food industries.\r\n   The FMI/AMI survey also showed that while there is a greater emphasis on value, the way 83% of shoppers achieve this goal is by more comparison shopping with the weekly grocery ads.\r\n\r\nCattle Futures Jump Sharply\r\n\r\n   Publication of the survey probably had little to do with it directly, but live cattle futures Tuesday closed sharply higher amid a general risk-on day for commodity funds, market analysts said.\r\n   A weaker US Dollar, a look at the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index, which showed impressive gains over the last two months on a gradually improving Global economic outlook and technical indicators sent buyers into the pits, the present unrest in Ukraine notwithstanding.\r\n   Concerns about the long, slow recovery of the US economy from the Great Recession appeared to be salved by thoughts the latest figures, such as the National Association of Home Builders’ latest Housing Market Index, which suffered its largest one-month drop ever in February, were skewed by incredibly bad weather in January.  \r\n   For now, the US Federal Reserve remains committed to tapering its third bond-buying program, known as Quantitative Easing, through the year, and the stock market appears to be adjusting with only modest withdrawal symptoms.  This suggests consumer buying habits may continue as they are, offering opportunity to the meat and poultry industries.\r\n   The USDA’s boxed-beef prices made up all of last week’s losses Monday and Tuesday, backing up the other indicators of better economic conditions.  Some attributed the boost to restocking after the latest round of storms hammered the East Coast, and particularly the heavily populated Northeast.  There were some thoughts the better weather to follow could influence more meat consumption as well.\r\n   Continued tight fed cattle supplies, which suggest higher prices will be necessary to fill packing plants’ slaughter schedules, added to the futures-market push.  And with cash cattle prices up last week in spite of last week’s decline in boxed-beef prices, there could be thoughts that packers will pick up the pace of slaughter this week.\r\n   Cash sales last week were reported at mostly $142 per cwt, up $1 from the week before.\r\n   The number of cattle being offered to packers this week is thought to be down from last week in Kansas and Texas, which goes against early expectations of larger feedlot showlists after limited sales the last two weeks.\r\n   The USDA’s choice cutout was reported Tuesday at $211.99 per cwt, up $1.01 on the day, and select was up $1.70 at $210.72.  The choice/select spread was $1.28, and there were 124 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market\r\n   The CME Feeder Cattle Cash Index for the seven days ended Monday is $171.64, down $0.15, while the March futures contract settled Tuesday at $171.70, up $1.22.\r\n