UPDATE 1-U.S. meat sales improve, but still slow - Tyson

Tue May 17, 2011 9:48am EDT

* Meat sales improving after a slow April

* Cold, wet April hurt meat sales

* Tyson Foods says will be raising meat prices

CHICAGO, May 17 (Reuters) - Domestic U.S. meat sales have improved in May but remain slow after being hurt by cold, wet conditions in April that discouraged outdoor grilling, an executive at Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) said on Tuesday.

"In last couple of weeks we have seen the demand improve," Chief Executive Donnie Smith said during a webcast presentation at the BMO Capital Markets conference. "That last week of April was very soft."

Tyson is the largest U.S. meat processor. Smith said the cold, wet weather and a late Easter week contributed to slow meat sales last month, and while meat sales have improved this month, they still remain slow.

"Demand feels pretty good for two weeks after Easter, but not hardly where we wanted it to be two weeks before Memorial Day," he said.

The U.S. Memorial Day holiday, May 30, is seen as the start of the summer cookout season and sales of cookout meats such as beef steaks, pork chops, and chicken breasts often increase before then.

Tyson on Tuesday repeated its forecast that retail meat prices will continue to increase to offset higher production costs. Strong meat exports plus higher feed costs have increased cattle, hog, and chicken prices.

Tyson buys cattle and hogs for its beef and pork plants, but raises its chickens.

"I don't believe all of the pricing has been passed onto the consumer yet," said Smith. "We have started increasing prices since the first part of the year and we will probably continue to do so." (Reporting by Bob Burgdorfer; editing by Jim Marshall)