CME: Will meat consumption drop with aging baby boomers?

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A few responses to our discussion of per capita meat consumption on Tuesday pointed out another driver of the downturn: Age. We Baby Boomers are certainly getting older and with that aging comes lower food intake and smaller portions. The 50 million of us born between 1945 and 1965 are within or entering that phase and the impact will almost certainly be lower consumption. But, we point out that that progression was underway long before 2008 and did not accelerate from2008 to today at anywhere near the rate at which meat and poultry consumption has fallen. An aging population is a contributor for sure but it is not the driver of the sharp reductions of the pat 5 years.

click image to zoom The aging population situation, though, is an interesting one. The chart at right is taken from a 2010 Census Brief entitled “The Older Population: 2010” published just last month by the Census Bureau. The brief focuses on the population of Americans 65 years of age and older but we found this graphic to be very interesting.

First, of course, is the huge number of Boomers that continue to make their way through the population distribution much like a large meal would make its way through a snake. The 10-year aging of that population from 2000 to 2010 is very obvious in the graphic. What struck us as interesting is that the size of the Boomer population did not decline much in that 10-year period. Census data show that the group born from 1945 to 1965 declined by only 1.6% during the ‘00s with the male population losing 2.9% and the female population losing only 0.3%.

That brings us to another point regarding aging that is important: It increases the proportion of the population made up of women. The rightward lean of the population is clear in the chart — and it becomes more pronounced with age. That women outlive men, on average (a fact that we quite unscientifically attribute to so many men having to wear neckties every day thus depriving their brains of tiny amounts of oxygen every day thus — but we digress), is a well-established fact. But add that quite natural shift to a group that represents 26.4% of the population and you get a much larger impact from the fact that women generally eat less.

An aside – one feature of this chart that struck us is the skewing of the distribution of young people toward males. The number of males per female begins above 1 (1.044, to be exact, in 2010) in the 0-5 age group and maxes out in the 15-19 year age bracket. That figure was 1.057 in 2000 and 1.053 in 2010. It goes down steadily past that point and was .38 males per female in the 90 and over category in 2010. Even without severe cultural favoritism toward males such as exists in China, we get more boys. But the girls win out in the end by holding a majority from age 35 onward.

The University of Illinois’ farmdoc group released its price projections last week. This group of agricultural economics faculty members do some great work and put out some top-notch publications on a very regular basis. Check them out at

The farmdoc analysts expect pork production to grow by 1.8% in 2012 to 23.1 billion pounds. With exports remaining large, they expect domestic per cap consumption to drop by 0.5 pounds to 45.7 and for Illinois live hog prices to remain in the mid-$60s (mid-$80s on a carcass weight basis.

They look for beef output to fall by over 6% in 2012 to only 25 billion pounds. With beef exports also remaining high, the supply reduction will push per cap consumption down by over 2 pounds per person to just 57.4. Fed cattle prices are expected to be near $125/cwt live weight.

Corn prices are expected to be pressured by ample grain supplies in the rest of the world and remain in the mid-$5 to low-$6 for the first part of 2012. The second half of the year, of course, will depend on crop and economic conditions but the U of I analysts expect higher corn acres this spring.

They expect wheat prices to remain near the level of corn prices with much dependent on weather in the HRW wheat areas.

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