Meat and Fish

SIC 5421

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of fresh, frozen, or cured meats, fish, shellfish, and other seafood. Also included are establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale, on a bulk basis, of meat for freezer storage, and in providing home freezer plans. Meat markets may butcher animals on their own, or they may buy from others. Food locker plants primarily engaged in renting locker space for the storage of food products for individual households are classified in SIC 4222: Refrigerated Warehouse and Storage. Establishments primarily engaged in the retail sale of poultry are classified in SIC 5499: Miscellaneous Food Stores.

Industry Snapshot

There were an estimated 5,883 meat markets and 1,967 fish and seafood markets in the United States in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The meat market industry employed 40,893 people who earned an annual payroll of around $783 million, whereas the fish and seafood market industry had 9,439 employees who earned a total of $211.2 million in annual wages. States with the highest number of establishments were California, New York, and Texas. Annual sales in the meat market sector were around $5 billion in 2011, while fish and seafood markets generated approximately $2 billion in revenues.

The majority of establishments in this industry were small. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 55 percent of meat markets and 71 percent of fish and seafood markets employed fewer than five people in the early 2010s. Ninety-three percent and 95 percent of establishments in the meat market and fish and seafood market industries, respectively, had fewer than 20 employees.

While most industry leaders posted sales in the billions, sales reported by individual companies in this industry were much lower than companies in related industries. Industry leaders in the early 2010s included Murry's Inc. of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, with sales of $148 million and 800 employees in 2011. Murry's sold approximately 150 different frozen meat products to 10,000 grocery stores throughout the nation and operated 30 of their own supermarkets in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Other leaders were Cargill Meat Solutions in Wichita, Kansas, and American Frozen Foods Inc. of Milford, Connecticut. Average annual revenues for establishments with 100 or more employees was approximately $23 million.

The retail meat and fish market industry, like other retail food markets, steadily downsized throughout the early to mid-1990s, due in large part to competition from supermarkets, superstores, and wholesale clubs that catered to consumers' desire for one-stop shopping and low prices. Total sales for this industry fell from $6.05 billion in 1993 to $5.97 billion in 1996. However, sales remained relatively steady through much of the first decade of the 2000s before declining again in the late years of the decade. The number of retail meat and fish markets has shrunk steadily since the 1990s.

Independent meat and fish markets face continued competition from supermarket chains and superstores. The recession at the end of the first decade of the 2000s did little to help independent butchers and fish markets or suppliers of meat and fish to retail vendors. Consumers, looking to conserve funds, ate out less, reducing the demand for meat and fish products by restaurants, hotels, and other venues that purchase from meat and fish suppliers. Consequently, business picked up at the meat counters in grocery stores and discount centers. However, the increased retail sales of meat and fish did not transfer to independent butchers and fish markets. Merrill Shugoll, of Shugoll Research told Supermarket News in March 2009 that the drop in business was expected. "Traditional grocery stores are very close to where shoppers live, and they have access to a lot of variety. ... They're just going where they can do everything at once, and as long their grocery store has good sales, customers are keeping up their frequency of shopping there." The situation did not improve at the beginning of the 2010s. In 2011 IBISWorld reported that "while demand for meat has risen because of greater per capita consumption, more consumers will turn toward larger grocery stores in order to obtain lower prices and convenience." The research firm predicted a drop in annual growth rate for the meat market industry of just under 1 percent through 2016, whereas the fish and seafood market industry was expected to decline about 1.5 percent per year during the same time. The latter had been negatively affected by the economic recession, as cash-strapped Americans cut back on expenses. According to IBISWorld, "The volume of fish and seafood sold dropped significantly in 2008 and 2009 in favor of less expensive protein sources such as chicken, pork and beef." In addition, "purchases of higher-quality seafood ... declined strongly as Americans substituted quality fresh fish with more frozen, canned or other lower-quality varieties."

Nonetheless, meat and fish markets, once a mainstay in the United States, continued to fill a niche by providing top-quality service and products. For example, these markets were much more likely to be able to trace the source of their products, provide specialized cuts or products, and offer advice to shoppers. The top one-fifth of the U.S. population in terms of income were projected to comprise the primary market for the industry in the 2010s.

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