Why Beef Consumption in Brazil is the Lowest in 28 Years

This is the third consecutive year that Brazilians have reduced the amount of bovine meat they consume, substituting red meat for chicken and pork

Security sensors on meat at a supermarket in Brasilia.
December 30, 2021 | 08:05 AM

Bloomberg Línea — It has been a long time since Brazilians have eaten so little beef as in 2021. To be more exact, since 1993. Twenty-eight years ago, per capita consumption was 29.98 kilograms. From then on, the demand for red meat had only been growing. However, since 2019, the trend of the curve has reversed and, year after year, beef has been less and less present on Brazilians’ plates. In 2021, the expectation is that per capita consumption will be 32.69 kilos, representing a drop of more than 9% compared to last year’s consumption.

Diverse factors can explain this downward trajectory, such as the population’s preference for other proteins, including vegetable ones, or even the Brazilians’ growing concern with environmental issues. However, the economic reason is the one that best explains this trend. Compared to pork and chicken, beef is the most valuable. The increase in unemployment, the drop in purchasing power, lower incomes, and inflation have led Brazilians to seek other alternatives. All of them, more affordable.

This fact is true when one looks at pork and chicken consumption. In the first case, the projections point to a 1.72% growth in per capita consumption this year compared to 2020, reaching the level of 14.17 kilos. Pork, in fact, has been on an upward trajectory for years, and its consumption has practically doubled among Brazilians in the last three decades.

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The demand for chicken has a very similar and even more accentuated trend. From 1990 until now, per capita consumption has practically tripled in size. This year, the average consumption in Brazil will be 48.12 kilos per person, 1.8% more than in the past year. Even with the increase in chicken meat prices in 2021, the product is still much more affordable than beef.

Despite the fact that the population has increased its consumption of pork and chicken this year, the fact is that, all together, we will eat, on average, less animal meat in 2021. The year practically comes to an end with each Brazilian having eaten, on average, 94.98 kilos of beef, pork and chicken. This amounts to more than two kilos of animal protein less than last year, which moves Brazilian consumers further and further away from the golden triennium of 2010, 2011 and 2012. During this period Brazilians ate more than 100 kilos of animal protein per year, just to mention the most traditional ones.

Some say that red meat is becoming a luxury item in the world and that, in the not too distant future, it will be consumed only on special occasions. In Brazil, where the largest cattle herd on the planet is found, per capita consumption is still at very high levels when compared to other countries. However, its share in the total consumption of the three main proteins has been steadily declining.

Thirty years ago, when the per capita consumption of the three main types of meat eaten in Brazil was 53.03 kilograms per year, 56% was beef, 14% pork and 30% chicken. Three decades later, of the 94.98 kilos of meat eaten by each Brazilian in 2021, the proportions were inverted, and chicken meat now represents 51% of the total, while beef represents 34% and pork 15%.