Meat’s place in the midst of a pandemic

Meat distribution and COVID-19

It’s safe to say that COVID-19 has had an impact on nearly every industry in America, and meat distribution has been no exception. But while many wholesale meat distributors have struggled to adapt to changing consumer needs, Cargill continuously studies consumer shopping behaviors. Despite a sizable meat shortage and quickly changing consumer mindsets and purchasing patterns, what we’ve found during the COVID-19 pandemic has been encouraging.

More meat is on the shopping list

Whether from a shrinking reliance on restaurants, a desire for more comforting dishes or an increase in cooking at home overall, shoppers are buying 48% more meat during the pandemic than they did before1. So there’s no doubt that wholesale meat distributors are offering what hungry customers are craving. And this trend is even more striking among the powerful millennial segment.

Millennial likelihood to buy more meat

Younger Millennials1

Older Millennials1

Households with kids1

Which cuts made the biggest gains?

With a 15% increase in fresh meat per buyer2, shoppers showed they were hungry for the kinds of cuts that deliver great taste and great value.

  • Chicken wings
    • Pork ribs
    • Sausage
    • Ham
    • Chicken breast

Grinds also showed to be a pandemic powerhouse, showing tremendous growth while providing versatility and ease of preparation for home cooks and their families.

What happened when the meat ran out?

While overall sales trends proved promising in 2020, they could have been even better if not for the COVID-19 meat shortage. Over the spring and summer of 2020, the vast majority of shoppers and wholesale meat distributors were affected by meat shortages, resulting in a variety of responses. But whether consumers opted for different cuts, shopped alternative proteins or thawed out meat stored in the freezer, the result for retailers is the same: Millions of consumers didn’t get the service and shopping experience they expected.

The difference a distribution network makes

While a huge number of retailers and consumers scrambled to work and shop around empty shelves and unavailable products during the COVID-19 meat shortage, many Cargill customers had access to the solutions they needed due to a distribution network that is best-in-class.

Through accurate forecasting models, superior facilities and strategic supply networks, we worked to power through the meat shortage and provide industry-leading fill rates on high-quality products. This allowed most of our customers to spend more time and energy focusing on the sales they’re making, not the ones they’re missing.

Accurate forecasting

In the event that one of our suppliers cannot fulfill the product our customers need, we have mitigation plans in place to acquire it. This reduces uncertainty and improves efficiency. Especially during industry-altering times like the COVID-19 meat shortage, this is one more tool we can use to help make sure meat distribution happens as normally as possible so our customers can get their shelves stocked as quickly and reliably as possible.

Automation in facilities

Cargill remains a leader among wholesale meat distributors, and we’re proud to say that our order-building and palletizing processes are automated and hands-free whenever possible to help ensure efficiency, accuracy and consistency. The result: Our customers get the correct order faster to help keep shelves consistently stocked.

Our efforts around food safety

The COVID-19 pandemic caused some consumers to have concerns about the safety of meat and poultry. At Cargill, food safety is important to us throughout our entire operation. Our values – do the right thing, put people first and reach higher – continue to guide us as we navigate COVID-19. We are working around the clock every day to support our workforce, suppliers, customers and the communities in which we live and work. Cargill draws on our decades of experience navigating major global issues to mitigate the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.

Each and every day, we continue to invest in innovative food safety and plant processes. We work hard to actively share our approach and practices with customers and promote transparency across the industry

Build customer loyalty with quality and reliability

Supermarkets are more relevant to consumers than ever.


Now is the time to build strong relationships with shoppers who will loyally come back again and again for years to come. That means you need partners who can deliver the products your customers are looking for and the level of quality they have come to expect.

Cargill’s unparalleled market forecasting, analysis, vast consumer insights and never-ending research and development are built to reliably deliver the top-quality products consumers want in your meat case every day. And we’re constantly working hard to improve product offerings, placement, pricing and packaging even further to meet the ever-changing needs of today’s consumer – just as we have for the last 83 years and counting.

For more information on how we can bring value to your meat case, contact a Cargill Sales Representative.


1Annual Meat Conference | Midyear Power of Meat© 2020

2IRI, MULO June 2020 versus year ago


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