By Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo

Consumers are buying less expensive cuts of their preferred meat or scrapping meat from their diet altogether, said global food industry experts, who cited the financial uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

“People do not consume as much at home. Despite all the conversations about how they are cooking more and entertaining more, what they’re doing at home, it’s different,” said Rupert Claxton, meat director at international food industry research firm Gira, in a webinar.

Consumption may drop even further as more employees are laid off from work. In April, the International Monetary Fund said that the current recession would be the worst since the 1930s Great Depression. In the Philippines, the latest Labor Force Survey showed the unemployment rate surged 17.7% in April from the 5.1% recorded in the same month last year, or equivalent to a total of 7.25 million jobless Filipinos that month compared to the 2.27 million in April 2019.

According to the panel, this has led consumers to pull back on meat consumption and switch to cheaper alternatives, such as poultry and fish, or even stop eating meat altogether. 

“In Asia… we could survive without meat with food that can fill up the stomach, such as noodles and rice. You could survive on less than a dollar a day,” said Gordon Butland, director at G&S Agri Consultants Co., Ltd, in the same session.

It may take a while before meat markets fully recover. While China’s food-service sector is expected to be back in full swing back in 2021, its US and Europe counterparts are expected to continue suffering from negative sales in the same year. “[Recovery is] going to be very slow, and people are going to be cautious because of the recessionary impact, said Mr. Claxton.

Furthermore, the length of the recession will dictate consumer habits. “If these forced changes of availability or [expensiveness] are short, you’d probably go back very close to what your habits were before. But if that duration is prolonged… there could be a partial or total permanent change in habits,” said Mr. Butland.