Meat and poultry products are consumer favorites, food industry mainstays, and protein powerhouses—all factors that will keep the US industry for animal protein growing despite challenges from plant protein alternatives, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.

Packaged Facts forecasts that total retail sales of meat, poultry, and meat substitutes will be just shy of $100 billion in 2021. Due to its higher price point, meat will dominate dollar sales despite still trailing poultry in per-capita consumption volume. Meat substitutes will account for less than $2 billion of the projected total.

Yet despite meat’s popularity and projected growth, this is not an industry without its fair share of scrutiny, comments David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.

“Meat continues to evolve and be re-evaluated by consumers in the wake of years of consciousness-raising on several topics, including humane animal treatment, meat processing, and nutrition,” says Sprinkle.

Thus in the years ahead, Packaged Facts predicts consumers will be mindful of their meat consumption, whether for economic, caloric, dietary, or ecological reasons. For those who seek out sustainable meat and poultry, specialty products like grass-fed or local beef, heritage poultry and even wild boar will be on point. Consumers will look to meat professionals to connect them with these products, explain the product benefits, and educate on how these products are best prepared and served.

Consumers minding their pocketbook will take cues from how cultures around the world make less-expensive cuts like brisket taste great. Likewise, retail sales of meat will also receive a boost from growth in consumption of pork, which is expected to maintain its low cost advantage over beef. In addition, many previously overlooked cuts of pork (such as pork shoulder) are experiencing a resurgence in popularity both at retail and in restaurants.  

Meanwhile, retail poultry sales are expected to increase during the next five years, supported by poultry’s cost advantages relative to many types of meat. A further advantage for chicken: health authorities such as the American Heart Association continue to encourage consumption of poultry and seafood as alternatives to red meat.

Packaged Facts concluded by noting that consumers seeking high-protein meat snacks will find a plethora of meat jerky, meat snack bars, and meat sticks available, as well as crunchy cracklings from high-quality pork, plus plant- and nut-based meat substitutes.


Snack Attack

Last spring saw Nielsen review the meat snacks category. In a late March post, “Where’s The Beef? Check the Snack Aisle,” analysts noted the meat snack category has posted compound annual sales growth of more than 7% during the past four years, with sales growth of 3.5% for the year ended Feb. 25, 2017.

A $2.8 billion category, meat snacks are bucketed into jerky and sticks, each of which contributes about half of total sales. Jerky had a particularly strong recent year (from 2016 to 2017), boasting sales growth of nearly 7%. Sales growth in the meat stick sub-group was flat in the recent year, after dramatic ups and downs in the previous three years.

Following are new product examples across both categories.

Jerky & Sticks:

After introducing a trail mix line in 2016, Oberto Brands, Kent, Wash., last year introduced a Pepperoni Jerky. Meanwhile, competitor Link Snacks Inc., Minong, Wis., launched Jack Links Steak Strips (two flavors) and Lorissa’s Kitchen Beef Sticks, a new line featuring 100% grass-fed beef with three flavors: Original, Smokey Sweet, Jalapeño.

Meat Crafters Skinny Salamis

Sophisticated Snacking. Growing category adds upscale appeal.

In other category news, Landcrafted Food, Independence, Va., expanded its grass-fed Smoked Beef Stick line with two hot options: Habanero BBQ and Spicy Cajun. Country Archer Jerky Co., San Bernadino, Calif., also branched into sticks with “paleo meat sticks” and collagen meat bars. The New Primal, North Charleston, S.C., also launched a Date & Rosemary Chicken Jerky. Organic specialist, Mighty Organic, La Farge, Wis., introduced Mighty Sticks 100% grass-fed beef snack sticks in three flavors: Original, Teriyaki, and Spicy Jalapeno. 

Taking a premium positioning was MeatCrafters Inc., Landover, Maryland, which introduced six varieties of “artisanal” Skinny Salamis. Flavors include Original Black Angus Beef, Truffle (pork) and Street Cart Sharma (lamb), Merguez (lamb), Spicy Chorizo (pork), and Casbah (pork).
Another interesting take came from Canada’s Expresco Foods. This Montreal-based firm introduced ProSticks, refrigerated, grilled chicken-on-a-stick snacks that weigh in at 3.5oz for $2.99. Street food-inspired skewer flavors include Mediterranean, Sweet Sriracha and Chipotle.

Snack Combinations:

Link Snacks started 2018 with a Jack Link’s Cold Crafted line featuring 100% beef and real Wisconsin Cheese. Varieties include Smoked Meat Sticks, Beef and Cheese Bites and Smoked Meat Sticks and Cheese. Elsewhere, Columbus Craft Meats, Hayward, Calif., expanded its Paninos line to include four new rolled meat-and–cheese combinations: Genoa Salame with Mozzarella, Hot Sopressata with Mozzarella, Prosciutto with Mozzarella, and Italian Dry Salame with Monterey Jack. Columbus also introduced two shelf-stable combinations featuring salame and “cheese crisps.”

Taking the theme even further was Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., which expanded its Hormel Natural Choice brand to include four new all-natural deli meat snacks, paired with cheddar or pepper jack cheese and a dark-chocolate confection. 


Feel Good Formulations

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the US declared a “War on Drugs” and promoted the phrase, “Just Say No” to America’s youth. Of course today finds meat and poultry companies wanting to “just say no” to antibiotics and growth hormones. 

Among those companies with new products—and accompanying “no-antibiotic” claims—have been PRE Brands, Chicago; Coleman Natural Foods, Kings Mountain, N.C.; and Joyce Farms, the Winston-Salem, N.C., maker of Naked Beef hamburgers and hot dogs. Not surprisingly, retailers including Giant Food and Raley’s also have introduced private label lines of antibiotic-free pork.

Still more developments involved True Story Foods, San Francisco, which made its national debut with a line of all natural, non-GMO and organic sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, bacon, and fresh pork. Elsewhere, Niman Ranch, Alameda, Calif., unveiled “Certified Humane” prosciutto; and Love The Wild, Boulder, Colo., released a line of sustainably-sourced seafood kits comprised of pure frozen fish fillets paired with bold sauces. The frozen seafood entrées bake in 25 minutes or less, and come in the following varieties: Striped Bass with Roasted Pepper Almond Sauce, Barramundi with Mango Sriracha Chutney, Catfish with Cajun Creme and Red Trout with Salsa Verde.

Love the Wild Seafood Kits
Best of Both Worlds: Restaurant-style flavors and sustainable sourcing.

Sugar reduction was the objective of at least two companies: Niman Ranch and Applegate Farms LLC, Bridgewater, N.J.

Niman Ranch opened 2018 with a new line of eight no-sugar products including bacon, pork chops, a pork roast and sausages. No-Sugar varieties include Applewood Smoked Bacon; Ginger Lemongrass, Andouille, and Apple Gouda (no sugar added) Uncured Sausages; Seasoned Pork Chops including Uncured Bacon Wrapped with Rosemary, Herb & Cracked Mustard Seed, Sea Salt & Cracked Black Pepper; and a Herb and Cracked Mustard Seed Pork Roast. In other news, Applegate launched Applegate Naturals No Sugar Bacon.

Among those taking a clean label approach were The Kraft Heinz Company, Pittsburgh, Pa., and Land O’Frost, Lansing, Ill. Kraft Heinz expanded its Oscar Mayer brand to include a complete Natural line of sausage, cold cuts, bacon, meat and cheese plates, sausage links and rope. All products are free of artificial ingredients and carry claims of “no antibiotics.” For its part, Land O’Frost extended its Simply Delicious pre-sliced, pre-packaged lunchmeats line with new Black Forest Turkey Breast and Black Pepper Ham varieties. Simply Delicious products include no artificial flavors and have no byproducts or added hormones. Tyson’s Ball Park brand also said it removed added nitrites and nitrates from all Ball Park beef hot dogs.

Also cutting calories (and fat) was Foster Farms, Livingston, Calif., which introduced Foster Farms Baked, a line of frozen breaded chicken breast nuggets, tenders and fillets. New Baked varieties are fully cooked and contain half the fat and 25% fewer calories than traditional offerings.

This year saw SeaPak Shrimp & Seafood Company introduce a SeaPak Selections line of lighter, better-for-you frozen seafood products. Varieties include Lemon Pepper Shrimp, Creamy Garlic Shrimp, Alaskan Salmon Burgers, Maryland Style Crab Cakes, and Sesame Ginger Salmon. Packaging notes protein content per serving and shows that the items contain no artificial preservatives, flavors or colors. Packaging also shows logos certifying responsible sourcing and sustainability.


Flavor to Savor

If consumer restaurant visits are down, why not bring the restaurant to them? Meat, poultry and seafood processors hope to do just that with more artisan, upscale and adventuresome new products and flavors.

Promoting artisan appeal have been companies such as Niman Ranch, High Liner Foods and Hormel Foods. Niman last year unveiled a line of artisan charcuterie, including 23 items of Genoa Salame, Capocollo, Hot Sopresatta, Pepperoni and Pancetta. Elsewhere, High Liner Foods, Portsmouth, N.H., introduced 10 Sea Cuisine entrees with on-trend flavors responsibly sourced seafood.

Items come packaged in a transparent, patented skin pack tray that showcase the fresh-looking, premium whole fillet cuts. Varieties include Pan Sear Garlic & Herb Tilapia, Pan Sear Teriyaki Sesame Salmon, Flame Seared Lemon Pepper Scallops, Mango Habanero Tilapia, Asian Grill Rubbed Salmon, Citrus Herb Rubbed Salmon, Honey Chipotle Salmon, Stout Spiked BBQ Salmon, Sweet Sriracha Rubbed Salmon Skewers and Montreal Seasoned Cod.

Hormel Foods launched Hormel Always Tender Dry Seasoned Loin Filets, an extension to the brand’s marinated offerings. Filets come in 1.5-pound packages and flavors include Greek Inspired (dry seasoned with onion, oregano and thyme), Herb (dry seasoned with rosemary, thyme and basil) and Sun-Dried Tomato (dry seasoned with sun-dried tomato, basil and oregano).

Asian flavors also are popular. Acme Smoked Fish Corp., Brooklyn, N.Y., introduced new Blue Hill Bay smoked fish poke bowls in Smoked Salmon and Smoked Tuna varieties. These ready-to eat Poke bowls contain smoked fish cubes that are salt-cured and slowly cold smoked with a blend of natural hardwoods. 

Last year also saw Suji’s Korean Cuisine, Omaha, Neb., launch several new items in retail including frozen Korean Beef Short Ribs; Bulgogi in Savory Beef, Spicy Pork, Savory Chicken and Spicy Chicken varieties; Ready-to-eat Chicken over Rice, Udon Noodles with Chicken and Spicy Chicken & Potatoes and Kimchi Rice with Uncured Bacon.

Originally appeared in the March, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Meat the Future.