5 ways to save money on meat in Colorado

Posted at 6:47 PM, Feb 10, 2016

A typical American household spends on average of $900 per year on meat, and meat is the largest expenditure of the consumer food budget, representing 23% of the total $3,971 spent on food at home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.   According to the USDA, U.S. consumers eat about 200 pounds of meat per person every year. 

The predominant expenditure is on beef, with $232 of the annual food expense spent on beef.  Pork is the second largest expenditure at $177, and poultry is third with $172 spent annually. 

In 2014 and 2015, beef and pork prices shot up due to a perfect storm of drought, disease and demand. Conditions have improved but, there's typically a lag time, like six months to a year-and-a-half between production increases and lower prices, and experts say it's unlikely that price decreases will be passed along as quickly or as completely as increases were.

Colorado is a hyper competitive market when it comes to meat prices.  Each week, local grocery stores promote incredible meat specials on the front page of their ads to lure you in for the cheap meat and other great sales.  

How do meat prices compare across traditional Colorado grocery stores and Costco?   I compared prices across Costco, Safeway, Target, Walmart and King Soopers for beef, pork and chicken.   You can the comparison see in the chart below.   While Costco’s meat prices are competitive, King Soopers and Safeway have meat sales with prices that beat Costco prices on beef, chicken and pork weekly.   King Soopers and Safeway meat sales can be up to 43% cheaper on chicken breasts and up to 50% off on beef steaks during special holidays when meat is discounted even more than normal. 

While Costco’s meat prices are in many cases lower than the grocery retailer’s everyday base prices, you need to plan ahead to make room in your freezer for the bulk meat purchase.  Oftentimes, the price per pound is so low and the package size so large because they are intending the meat to be purchased by restaurants, not consumers.  In the end, savvy shoppers win when they shop the sales and stock up when prices are really low.  See the stock-up price list for the 10 most popular meats purchased below.

Costco is known for their pricing on organic meat and the quality of their steaks.  The organic ground beef is sold for $5.49/lb., which is 15% lower than King Soopers and Safeway everyday prices.  Costco carries some USDA Prime meat, which accounts for the higher quality.

How can you be a savvy shopper and save on meat? 

Here are five tips:

1.  Plan your meals around what’s on sale.

Rather than going to the grocery store without a list or a plan of what you plan to make for dinner each week, quickly browse the store circulars, or use a price comparison app like uGrocery to see what the best deals are. 

For example, if pork ribs are under $2.00 a pound, then serve ribs for dinner, when beef roasts are under $4.00 a pound, serve a roast or make French dip or BBQ beef sandwiches.  Planning your meals around meat specials is a quick and easy way to mix up the dinner routine, and can save you 30-40% on your meat spend every week. 

2. Stock up when meat is on sale.

Grocery stores rotate sales on beef, chicken and pork every four to six weeks, so when these items are at a rock-bottom price, it’s a good idea to stock your freezer to you can get through the next several weeks without having to pay full-price for the same package of meat.   This is especially true with ground beef, which is frequently featured in the sales flyers, but the 93% lean meat is on sale for under $4.00 a pound once every four weeks or so. 

Holidays are popular times for reduced meat prices.  Retailers know that many consumers want to have a nice meal at home, so they drop prices to get you in the door.  Expect the next wave of steak and lobster promos to come around Valentine’s Day.

3.  Learn the cuts of meat and talk to your butcher about less expensive cuts and preparation method.

The butchers not only know the best cuts of meat for the value, they can also recommend the best way to prepare the meat.  Some beef requires moisture, while some is best prepared with dry heat.  The butcher is really the expert and can give you incredible insight to the best value for your meat dollars.  While a filet mignon is the crème de la crème of steaks, you can actually “choose a flat-iron steak for half the cost, and get a tender, delicious steak”, according to Mike Rayburn, Safeway sales meat manager. 

Rayburn also suggests, “rather than buying a Rib-eye steak, which runs $12.99/lb., a good low-cost alternative is a chuck-eye steak which comes from the lower rib primal and is only $7.99/lb."

4. Buy family size packs or pre-packaged chub beef rolls for the best value.

Retailers have different per unit prices on larger size or value packs of meat.  For example, the 93% lean ground beef 1 lb. package is $6.49/lb. at King Soopers and Safeway, but the value pack of 3 lbs. or more drops to $3.99 on sale every 4-6 weeks, so you save almost 40% by purchasing the family pack on sale.  When you buy the larger packs, you can prepare a large portion and stretch it out over multiple meals.

If you are looking for the best value in ground beef without buying the family size, it’s in a pre-packaged chub roll.  For example, 93% Lean ground beef in a tray pack costs $6.49, however the 93% lean chub is just $5.29, so you save almost 20% ($1.20) when you buy the chub. 

5. Shop the Manager Specials.

All grocery stores mark meat down every day as the meat in their cases near the “best when used by” date.  Get to the store early for the best selection of meat markdowns and you can save an extra 30 – 50%.  Just be prepared to cook it for dinner that night, or immediately place it in the freezer if you already have a dinner entrée planned.

Here's a round-up of stock-up prices on popular meats to look for at your local supermarket.  When you see these prices or lower, be sure to pick up an extra pack or two for the freezer.

  • 93% Lean Ground Beef - $3.99/lb.
  • Chuck Roast - $3.99/lb.
  • Sirloin Steak, bone-in - $5.99/lb.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts - $1.69/lb.
  • Chicken drumsticks - $.69/lb.
  • Ribeye steak, bone-in - $5.99/lb.
  • Pork Ribs - $1.79/lb.
  • Assorted Pork Chops, bone-in - $1.88/lb.
  • Pork Loin Center Cut Chops, boneless - $3.99/lb.

Here are a few interesting facts about meat available across Colorado stores:

Safeway and Costco cut just about all of their beef products daily in their stores.  The majority of King Soopers, Target and Walmart meat comes pre-packaged from their suppliers.  King Soopers does have custom cuts available behind the butcher counter. 

Walmart carries a lot of USDA Select meat.  You will know the difference by the label.  If it doesn’t have the USDA Choice Seal, then its likely a lesser grade.

Costco on the other hand carries USDA Prime Beef in addition to USDA Choice.  You will definitely shell out more money for prime and a lot of the prime beef is intended and packaged for commercial use.

The organic and natural category is the highest growth category in meat on the market today.  This has prompted new beef and chicken products to make appearances in all the grocery stores.  You can see Target’s shelving of their focus on organic and grass fed products here.

I expect we will see a lot more growth in this category with new beef, chicken and pork cuts across all the retailers this year.

 Eva Fry is a local savings and pricing expert.  She is the founder of the uGrocery price comparison app and grocery sale and coupon matchup site