Fresh meat sales have benefited more than most other consumables during this year's recession, as more Americans are cooking at home. 

In the 52-week period ending Sept. 5, fresh meats saw a 9 percent growth in dollars spent in major retail channels compared with a year ago. That makes meat the leader among "edible departments," says Todd Hale, senior vice president of consumer and shopper insights at The Nielsen Company . He was referring to his latest research on U.S. retailing and consumer trends.

The second leading category, at nearly 6 percent, was packaged meats. According to Hale, that was driven by strong innovations in convenience such as microwaveable bacon products. As a whole, the "edible departments" had a 2.2 percent increase in dollar growth.

As for the number of units sold during that 52-week period, fresh meats increased 7.2 percent and packaged meats by 1.2 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, overall unit growth in major retail channels declined 1 percent as consumers continue to substitute products or buy less. That has been particularly true in the non-edible categories, Hale notes.

"We're seeing unit increases, but people aren't buying enough to offset price cuts to generate more dollar sales (for retailers or manufacturers)," he adds.

Hale points to consumer savings rates as a percent of income, which had been zero or negative in recent years, but is now at more than 5 percent. That means Americans are being more judicious in their spending.