Remember 3D glasses? They certainly would come in handy when developing new K-12 foodservice items for kids. That’s because these offerings have three critical dimensions: they need to satisfy finicky eaters, meet school foodservice operators’ needs—and ultimately please parents.

Checking all those boxes was a new line of all natural, reduced sodium pre-sliced sandwich meats from Jennie-O Turkey Store, a Willmar, Minn., business of Hormel Foods Corp. All sandwich meats are made from turkey and varieties are Oven Roasted, Smoked, Ham, Pastrami, Salami and Bologna. 

“This Jennie-O Turkey Store all natural, reduced sodium line was launched in 2016 to address a few of today’s consumer needs—including the desire for all natural products and cleaner labels as well as the desire for customization,” notes Renee Cool, Jennie-O Turkey Store foodservice brand manager. “These consumer needs are amplified for Gen Z consumers who dine in K-12 schools.”

Cool says Jennie-O’s R&D and marketing teams came together to select the right varieties and determine the needed formulation work. The assignment meant removing un-wanted ingredients, retaining flavor and ensuring all formulations meet the established school nutrition guidelines.

The first priority was to include the most popular lunch meat varieties—but make them cleaner and better. Cool says Jennie-O took steps to make each offering flavorful and all natural (minimally processed and no artificial ingredients), and reduce the sodium to meet the school lunch standards. Varieties that are normally cured, such as turkey ham, were naturally cured by removing ingredients such as sodium nitrite and erythorbate. Dark meat items that normally involved mechanically separated meat (bologna and salami) were formulated to contain a higher grade of meat and nothing mechanically separated. 

“We know that our young consumers expect to be able to customize all of their foods,” Cool adds. “The desire for customization can be limited in an environment—such as K-12 schools—where meals must meet a particular guideline in order to be reimbursable by the USDA. To help bring a fun element of customization to this K-12 offering, we designed these products so that six slices of any combination of our sliced meats, satisfy the meat/meat alternative requirement of K-12 schools. This lets nutrition directors customize sandwiches for students—or better yet, allows students to create their own combinations and be assured that all of the required nutritional elements are covered. In a nut shell, this program is mix and match.”

The new lunchmeat program also is successful. Carol Gnan, Jennie-O Turkey Store director of education sales, told New Products Conference attendees that the line has been a hit with school foodservice directors and has posted strong first-year sales.