Processed Meat/Poultry/Seafood 2000 1999
Meat products 225 300
Poultry products 150 155
Seafood products 113 100
Meat substitutes 91 89
Eggs/egg products 4 2
Total 583 646

Source: New Product News/GNPD & PF

Dipping to their lowest level in five years, the combined products from the Processed Meat/Poultry/Seafood category totaled 583 product introductions in 2000--a 10% drop from 1999's 646 launches.

The drop comes almost exclusively in the "meat" segment of the category, which includes beef, pork, veal and lamb. Several reasons may account for this decline. First, supermarket store shelves may simply be filling up with branded, unique products. Second, more consumers are choosing to go meat-free, or at the very least choose a meat substitute.

Those meat substitutes may find themselves an even stronger market in the year to come. As Europe wrestles with foot-and-mouth disease and the specter of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow), the negative publicity may influence beef and pork consumption in the U.S. In addition, the U.S. has banned meat imports from many European countries, which may result in a shortage of some meat products. For example, Denmark supplies about half of the baby back ribs eaten in this country. The impact on the beef and pork industries--and on new product development--could be incalculable.

Poultry may turn out to be the big winner in this crisis, followed by seafood. Or consumers could turn more to vegetarian offerings, which have been growing both on restaurant menus and in packaged foods in health food stores and mainstream supermarkets.

Recognizing the growing popularity of skillet-type dinners, Perdue rolled out Simply Sauté, ready-to-cook and seasoned chicken strips.

Cue Up Convenience

Setting this long-term view aside for the moment, it is clear, however, that 2000 saw its share of interesting, significant or unusual products.

Many of the products that hit the market were designed to make things quicker and easier for both the consumer and the foodservice operator.

As foodservice establishments continue to look for ways to simplify their kitchen preparation and cope with the lack of skilled labor, food manufacturers are developing food solutions. For example, Farmland Foods, Kansas City, Mo., rolled out Sandwich Set-Ups to assure uniform sandwich creations every time. The products are pre-portioned and go from package to sandwich in a flash. Five varieties include Classic Italian (mortadella, sweet capicola, genoa salami), Italian Deluxe (hot ham capicola, hard salami, grande pepperoni), Premium Ham, Ham & Bologna, and Ham.

Consumers at home also can simplify their food prep with similar types of products. In Canada, J. M. Schneider, Kitchener, Ontario, offers Toss'ins meats, which are pieces of various types of meats that are ready to go into salads, omelettes, or to top pizzas. In addition, they come in 65 g bags, just right for single use. The varieties include Smoked Sausage in Cubes, Bacon Bits, Ham, and Sliced Pepperoni.

Hormel added a kick to its Spam with a Tabasco Hot & Spicy variety.

Pork Progress

The "other white meat" continues to grow in the meat case. Most of the latest product introductions were marinated to add value and convenience. Hatfield Quality Meats, Hatfield, Pa., added to its Tender Plus line with new flavors. Honey Mustard Tenderloin, Southwestern Sirloin Roast and Oven Roasted Thick Chop all come with pop-up timers for cooking convenience.

Hormel's Always Tender line added a Mojo Criollo Pork Roast, which it introduced in conjunction with Goya Foods. This variety is offered mainly in stores with a significant Hispanic shopper base. The flavor is a Cuban-style marinade. Hormel also added varieties in its already-cooked Always Tender line, including Pork Roast Au Jus. Consumers just heat and eat.

The third big player in the pork arena, John Morrell, Cincinnati, introduced a Tender N Juicy uncooked line with a variety of cuts and flavors, such as Honey Mustard, Salsa and Onion & Garlic.

Hormel wasn't the only company to team up with Hispanic foods giant Goya Foods. Jordan's Meats, Portland, Maine, did as well and offered a line of Goya Hispanic Deli Meats and Deli Poultry. Flavors included Adobo Ham, Roast Beef Picante, Island Citrus Jerk Turkey Breast and Cilantro Turkey Breast. All flavors were designed to appeal to mainstream consumers in addition to the Hispanic market.

Meatless Musing

Traditionally, meat substitutes have been offered as alternatives (and imitations of) regular meat products. We still see a number of those items, but increasingly the products are positioned as alternatives to meat products rather than imitations of them. Thus, the rise in portobello mushroom burgers and the like, which are promoted for their own unique flavor profiles, rather than the fact that they taste and look just like meat or poultry (which increasingly they do not). It's a subtle distinction, but one which garners a greater consumer base.

And under the category of truly odd, turkey was transformed by both Now & Zen and Turtle Island, which marketed meat-free turkey products that look like the actual bird (one complete with stuffing, right in time for the holidays). Lindner offered Bisurkey, patties made of bison and turkey.

Catch of the Day

Fish also figured prominently in the Processed Meat category. The two ladies, Mrs. Friday's and Mrs. Paul's, extended their seafood lines with calamari and prime cuts of seafood (Mrs. Friday's) and crispy fish fillets and cajun-flavored items (Mrs. Paul's). Most of the new seafood items are already prepared, ready to go straight into the oven or microwave. This seems to be the favored way for consumers to prepare seafood, rather than from scratch with fresh, unseasoned portions.

In the area of packaging innovations, StarKist led the pack with its tuna in a pouch. The product requires less liquid than cans, so no draining is needed prior to use. BumbleBee Seafood and Chicken of the Sea also have followed suit with pouched products.

Both Tyson and Perdue made packaging advances, too. Tyson offered its Chicken 2 Go product, a grab-and-go chicken nugget snack. The package contains nuggets and dipping sauce; just microwave and eat. Perdue took the fuss out of cutting up and seasoning fresh chicken for use in recipes with its new Simply Sauté product.

Gourmet sausages, many made with chicken, continue to appear. The newest comes from Casual Gourmet, Clearwater, Fla., which sells Pineapple, Mango & Raisin; Ham & Swiss Cheese; and Spicy Salsa & Cheddar varieties. On the West Coast, Farmer John, Los Angeles, has a similar line, with flavors such as Provencale Scallion Herb and Santa Fe Peppers & Lime. PF