by Megan Durisin and Shruti Date Singh
For all the buzz about pea protein and lab-grown burgers, Americans are set to eat more meat in 2018 than ever before.
To be precise, the average consumer will eat 222.2 pounds (100.8 kilos) of red meat and poultry this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surpassing a record set in 2004. Meanwhile, domestic production will surpass 100 billion pounds for the first time, as livestock owners expand their herds on the back of cheap feed grain.
Though the USDA’s per-capita measure isn’t a true gauge of consumption, it serves as a common proxy. It shows egg demand reaching an all-time high as well in 2018. Dairy items like cheese and butter have also been growing in popularity.
“If you look at the items that consumers say they want more of in their diet, protein tops the list,” said David Portalatin, a Houston-based food industry adviser for NPD Group.
Many Americans are actively shunning carbohydrates in favor of protein, though any health benefits may be outweighed by the sheer volume of meat, eggs and dairy being consumed. While the government recommends that adults eat 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein daily, the USDA forecasts the average person will down almost 10 ounces of meat and poultry each day in 2018.
It’s a sharp turnaround from 2007 through 2014, a time when per-capita meat and poultry demand slumped 9% as rising corn-based ethanol demand and a drought sent commodity prices sharply higher. Though cattle and hogs are now far cheaper than their 2014 peak, prices could still rebound. U.S. meat exports have soared as the global economy improves, outpacing the gains in domestic demand.
Meat substitutes have gained attention in recent years amid concerns about the impact of a carnivorous diet on health, animal welfare and the environment. For example, Chicago-based Epic Burger Inc. last year started selling the Beyond Burger plant-based patty that mimics meat. Protein from plants, insects or cultured meat are a top food trend to watch, though the category isn’t expected to significantly dent animal product sales just yet, according to a November report from CoBank.
“Ten years from now, there will be higher plant consumption, but beef will always be king,” Epic Burger founder David Friedman said. “People are always looking to put more protein into their diets. But they want high quality and transparency in the food they’re eating.”
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