Regardless of what political turmoil takes place in the country in 2017 and beyond, Americans will continue to eat, and if at all possible, they will continue to eat as well as their budget allows. That appears to be a good sign for the meat industry. The USDA projects that production of beef and pork will expand steadily between 2016 and 2025. The National Chicken Council, meanwhile, reports that consumers are eating more chicken than ever—approximately 92 pounds in 2016, according to USDA estimates—and are planning to increase that consumption in the future.

Just what kind of meat will consumers be eating in 2017 and beyond? According to consumer research, more of it will be grass-fed and humanely raised. Recent research from Innova Market Insights lists “clean supreme” is its top food trend.

Says Innova, “The demand for total transparency now incorporates the entire supply chain, as a clean label positioning becomes more holistic. Trending clean supply chain claims include ‘environmentally friendly,’ which has shown a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] growth of +72% from 2011-2015 and ‘animal welfare,’ which has grown at +45% per year during this period.”

Packaged Facts agrees and says new golden rule in the US food industry is, “An informed consumer is a satisfied consumer.” 

“Perhaps more than ever before, consumers want to know about what’s in their meat and poultry, how it was raised and where it came from. This need to know taps a breadth of concerns related to food healthfulness and sustainable practices,” says David Sprinkle, Packaged Facts research director.

In a separate report, research from Nielsen and the Wall Street Journal showed that sales of grass-fed products were $400 million over a 52-week period ending July 2, 2016. That represents a 50.1% increase.

Several processors and food companies have adapted to consumer demand for antibiotic-free meats, including General Mills (Progresso), Foster Farms, Perdue Farms and numerous smaller meat brands. Perdue, which eliminated the use of antibiotics that could be used for humans two years ago, eliminated the use of animal-only antibiotics in 2016.

Others in the news last year were Blue Goose Pure Foods, Toronto; and Verde Farms, a Woburn, Mass.-based company specializing in grass-fed beef. Last August saw Blue Goose introduce chicken wieners that were first in Ontario to earn Certified Humane certification. Officials say the wieners are made from Ontario-raised chickens, on farms that do not use antibiotics, animal by-products or any added hormones. Meanwhile, Verde Farms added three new offerings: Verde Farms 100% Grass-Fed Organic, Verde Farms “Never Ever” and Verde Farms Grass-Fed.

For its part, Packaged Facts also believes consumers would prefer local and/or domestic sourcing.

“In this regard, touting ‘grown in the USA’ is not only about patriotism and jobs—it goes to the heart of consumers’ concerns about food quality and safety,” says David Sprinkle. “A pessimist could argue, ‘better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t’; an optimist could argue that the US is renowned around the world for quality control and strong, consistent food regulation that is hard to beat on a global stage. In either case, US meat and poultry providers should make their homegrown advantage loud and clear on their packaging.”

United Snacks of America, New York, N.Y., took that approach with new Farmer’s Pantry Meal Snacks and Farmer’s Pantry Cornbread Crisps. Farmer’s Pantry Meal Snacks varieties are Herb Roasted Turkey with veggies, cranberries and stuffing; Flame Grilled Chicken with slow roasted corn; and Garden Harvest Chicken with vegetables. Packaging says “Proudly Grown in America” and the company says all ingredient meats, grains and vegetables are directly sourced from American farms. 

Meat Snack Boom

At the National Association of Convenience Stores’ 2016 annual show in Atlanta, the exhibitor floor was filled with energy drinks, candy… and meat. Lots and lots of meat. There were at least two dozen meat processors at the show, most of which were showing off their jerky products, snack sticks and meat bars.

Last year brought a crush of new products to take meat snacks in a range of directions. Like United Snacks, Oberto Beef Jerky took the snack mix route with Oberto Trail Mix, a better-for-you option with Original Beef, Spicy Sweet Beef, and Teriyaki Chicken varieties. Each includes jerky and a mix of premium nuts, seeds, fruit and dark chocolate.

Still more interesting new offerings came from Land O’Frost Inc.; Direct Plus Food Group, Calgary, Alberta; and Thanasi Foods LLC, Boulder, Colo. 

Land O’Frost launched Deli Snackers, a shelf-stable line of baked meat snacks in six varieties: including: Black Forest Ham, Hot & Smokey Ham, Vermont Maple Ham, Rotisserie Seasoned Chicken Breast, Sweet & Spicy Chicken Breast and Buffalo Chicken Breast. Officials say it’s an ideal snack size with 12-14 pieces and 10g of protein and just 80 calories per 2oz serving. Elsewhere, Canada’s Direct Plus introduced McSweeney’s Pep’ N Cheddies, an easy-peel “go-portion” of pepperoni and a Bothwell cheddar cheese stick. Lastly, Thanasi introduced six varieties of its dried Smoked Shorty Sausages in 5oz bags. Varieties include Hatch Green Chile, Chorizo & Lime, Hickory Peach BBQ, and Tomato Basil (made from chicken). 

More new forms and flavors stood out in 2016. Last fall saw Krave Pure Foods introduce Krave Stick, meat layered with unexpected ingredients like beans and sweet potatoes. Varieties include Spicy Red Pepper Pork with Black Beans, Rosemary Lemon Turkey with White Beans and Sesame Garlic Beef with Sweet Potatoes. In December, the brand came right back with Krave Bar, a 1.25oz bar in four sweet and savory flavors: Chipotle Cherry Beef, Cranberry Thyme Turkey, Mango Jalapeño Pork and Wild Blueberry Beef.

Hungry for more? The New Primal, North Charleston, S.C., used Natural Products Expo East to debut four bold meat stick flavors: Habanero Pineapple Beef, Cilantro Lime Turkey and the company’s first pork products, Maple Bacon Pork and Barbecue Pork. Jack Link’s also introduced five new items: Flame-Grilled Steakhouse Beef Jerky, Limited Edition Flame-Grilled Whiskey Glaze Pork Strips, Flame-Grilled Korean BBQ Pork Strip, Sweet BBQ Stick and a Small Batch Artisanal Stick. 

Speaking of whiskey, Hangover Joe’s Holding Corporation, Denver, launched a line of alcohol-flavored gourmet beef brisket beef jerky offerings. Varieties include New Orleans Whiskey Cured Cajun Jerky, Bourbon & Beef Steak!, Sake Teriyaki, Tequila Lime Habanero, Black Pepper Sea Salted Vodka and an IPA Beer Cured Jerky. 

Craft and Convenience

Last but not least, convenience and craft, artisan flavors also are key product development drivers in meat and poultry.

Sausage companies certainly were among those focusing on craft flavors. Last year saw Vermont Smoke & Cure, Hinesburg, Vt., introduce a Hard Cider Bratwurst, Blue Cheese Bratwurst and Bacon Bratwurst. Nueske’s, Wittenberg, Wis., introduced a Jalapeño Bacon Cheddar Bratwurst with an applewood smoked natural casing. Boar’s Head Provisions, Sarasota, Fla., also developed three new chicken sausages: Robust Italian, Blazing Buffalo and Uncured Bacon.

Elsewhere, Smithfield Foods said trends toward slow cooker cooking and bacon influenced its seven new items debuting last November. New offerings included marinated pork roasts (Sweet & Smoky, Homestyle), Boneless Pork Shoulder Carnitas (seasoned, non-seasoned), Hardwood Smoked Bacon & Cracked Black Pepper Marinated Fresh Pork Tenderloin, Brown Sugar & Bourbon Bacon, and a Salted Caramel Spiral Sliced Ham.

How about where flavor meets function—as in convenience? 

After a fall 2015 debut, Foster Farms’ all-natural Sauté Ready chicken rolled out to more markets last year. The product includes flavorful chicken breast pieces and strips that are pre-cut, marinated and frozen. With no thawing required, the chicken is ready to cook right out of the bag and can go from freezer to table in just 10 minutes. The product line includes three savory flavors: Garlic Herb, Fajita and Asian Style. 

Similarly, GNP Company, St. Cloud, Minn., introduced Gold’n Plump Shakers, a line of fresh, three-step-prep chicken breast strip kits. Unlike some other breaded chicken products, Shakers are sold fresh not frozen. Plus, they have no added solution, preservatives or artificial flavors and are lower in sodium. The new items are made with chicken “raised with No Antibiotics–Ever” and carry the American Humane Certified seal.

Shakers are available in five flavors including: Savory, Sweet Chili, Jamaican, Honey Barbeque, and Chipotle Adobo. Each 20oz kit includes 16oz of fresh, whole muscle chicken breast strips in an easy-to-open pouch, 4oz of seasoned breadcrumbs, and a zip-seal bag for shaking. Shaker items have a suggested retail price of $5.99 per 20oz kit. 

Want even faster prep? al fresco all natural, best known for gourmet chicken sausage, released two products that center on chicken bacon. Produced by Kayem Foods, Chelsea, Mass., al fresco’s new, uncured ready-to-cook and uncured ready-to-eat chicken bacon sizzle with 70% less fat than cooked pork bacon according to USDA data. The bacon is naturally cured, so no nitrates, nitrites or artificial ingredients. al fresco’s chicken bacon includes simple ingredients like water, a dash of raw sugar, sea salt and celery powder.

Each 3oz package of al fresco fully cooked, ready-to-eat chicken bacon contains 14 slices in two convenient, seven-slice, easy-open pouches (SRP $4.49). Each 8oz package of al fresco ready-to-cook chicken bacon contains nine slices (SRP $4.49).    

Portions of this article are excerpted from “Meat Industry Trends for 2017” in bnp Media’s Independent Provisioner. It was written by Sam Gazdziak, editor in chief, Independent Processor; and editor, National Provisioner. Visit for more details.

Originally appeared in the March, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Meat the New Kids.

2017 Retail New Products Annual