Despite the rise in interest in plant-based or lab-grown protein, market researcher Packaged Facts finds that actual consumption is very low compared to demand for beef, pork, chicken and turkey. Moreover, the Rockville, Md., firm says its surveys show that when consumers say they are seeking protein, it’s typically animal protein, though they now talk about wanting it “clean,” such as grass-fed, cage-free, or free-range.

Meanwhile, meat, poultry and seafood processors continue to innovate and evolve their offerings to address consumer and foodservice operator needs. These new products target greater interests in ethnic foods, ethnical sourcing and clean label trends, new flavorful and fun dining experiences and operator convenience.

Of course, new ethnic offerings perhaps were the easiest to spot at the annual National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show at Chicago’s McCormick Place. For starters, NRA judges presented one of the organization’s 2018 Food and Beverage Awards (FABI) to Kronos Foods Corp., Glendale Heights, Ill., for its KronoBROIL Gyros Slices.

“KronoBROIL eliminates the need to invest in a vertical broiler in order to serve authentic gyros,” the company says. “Slices are created by a revolutionary manufacturing process that flame-broils and carves a colossal gyros cone—replicating the taste, texture and hand-carved appearance of old world gyros.”

Elsewhere on the NRA floor, Mediterranean Brands Inc., Glenview, Ill., sampled a complete “Filipino Set” of offerings including an authentic Chicken Pancit. Ethnic flavors also were among the featured new products at Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn. The company’s foodservice group offers several ethnic items including a Café H Korean beef BBQ, authentically seasoned with Korean ingredients and beef clod; and Café H  Mediterranean chicken, an all-natural product comprised of a blend of both breast and thigh meat and seasoned with authentic Mediterranean spices.

Says Hormel, “This product offers operators the chance to serve Mediterranean cuisine without having to customize their spice pantry, cooking equipment or spending hours cooking/preparing. This is an easy-to-execute global protein making Mediterranean cuisine approachable for all operators.”

This June, a month later, Hormel’s Jennie-O Turkey Store subsidiary used the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association annual expo to showcase its new “Fearless Flavors” seasoned meats line. Included are two new all natural seasoned turkey breast varieties (Chili Pepper, Sweet Thai Chili) and one premium chicken variety (Peri Peri). 


Ethical, Clean Label

No less important are new meat, poultry and seafood items that emphasize ethical sourcing and/or clean label appeal.  

When it introduced 26 new offerings this spring to its Serve Good program, distributor US Foods, Rosemont, Ill., noted 67% of consumers state that they would have a better impression of a restaurant that offered sustainable foods and at least 80% of diners say they want to know more about their food source (Datassential, MenuTrends, 2016). The company adds that the term “sustainable” has increased more than 300% on seafood menus in the past decade. 

In conjunction, US Foods introduced two new Harbor Banks (brand) seafood items—Coho Salmon and Yellowfin Tuna Loin—that that meet leading third-party certifications, such as those from the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Separately, US Foods also introduced an All Natural Prosciutto Raised Without Antibiotics (under its Metro Deli line).

Elsewhere, Perdue Foodservice, Salisbury, Md., expanded its PERDUE HARVESTLAND turkey products line with Sliced Smoked Turkey and Dark Turkey Burgers. Perdue says both products contain no artificial ingredients, NO ANTIBIOTICS EVER and no animal by-products, and are raised on a 100% vegetarian diet.

In other turkey products news, Jennie-O’s Turkey Store’s deli group said it reformulated and relaunched its former Pot Roast Dark Turkey product with an all-natural formula. R&D scientists removed sodium phosphate and modified food starch and replaced them with baking soda and rice starch. In conjunction, Jennie-O renamed the product as ‘Slow Roasted Dark Turkey.” In a similar move, Jennie-O reformulated and relaunched its Rotisserie Split Breast deli product with a new, all-natural formulation. It removed modified food starch and replaced it with carrageenan. This also led to a total fat reduction of 4g to 2g as well as a sodium reduction of 380mg to 310mg.


NRA's annual food show featured several exhibitors with plant-based meat offerings. Among them were two 2018 Food and Beverage Award (FABI) winners, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.

Impossible FoodsImpossible Foods, Redwood City, Calif., earned a 2018 FABI award for its Impossible Burger. Says the company, "This plant-based burger is made from simple, natural ingredients including water, wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and the "magic" ingredient, heme. With the rich, decadent taste of beef, it satisfies carnivores while at the same time appealing to vegans because of its plant-based proteins. The Impossible Burger performs like beef and can be used as a creative substitute to appeal to all diners."


Beyond SausageBeyond Meat, El Segundo, Calif., earned a 2018 FABI award for its new Beyond Sausage. Says the company, "Offering the juicy, meaty deliciousness of a traditional sausage in three flavors—Original Bratwurst, Sweet Italian and Hot Italian—the texture and flavor profile allow you to substitute it in just about any recipe that uses pork sausage and still deliver the sizzle your diners crave."


Fun & Flavorful

Foodservice consumers also appreciate those new items that are both fun and flavorful—and manufacturers also are responding to those demands. 
For example, after helping Taco Bell develop and launch its wildly popular Quesalupa (2016) and Naked Chicken Chalupa (2017), Tyson Foods’ foodservice group also co-developed Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chips, which launched in mid-2017. 

“Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chips solve the consumer need to snack and love of crispy, hand-held chicken and are a unique positioning for hand-held chicken within the QSR Ethnic/Mexican operator channel,” says Tyson. “These types of products—including chicken nuggets, bits or strips—have been dominated by QSR Burger and QSR Chicken segments.”

Emphasizing the flavor experience has been Johnsonville LLC. During the past 12 months, this Sheboygan Falls, Wis., company has introduced a Smoked Bourbon BBQ Sausage and an Applewood Smoked Chicken Apple Split Sausage for convenience store and foodservice operators.

In the first instance, officials note growing consumer interest in charred, smoked foods. Likewise, from breakfast to dinner, foodservice menus have seen bourbon as a trending flavor. According to Datassential’s 2016 Menu Trends report, bourbon has experienced an impressive 93% four-year growth on menus and a 279% growth since 2005.

In the second case, Johnsonville says its naturally smoked chicken sausage, a better-for-you option, has real pieces of apple, about half the fat and calories of a pork sausage, and is the first chicken sausage in its foodservice Smoked Sausage line. According to Datassential Menu Trends, chicken sausage on menus has grown 106% from 2007 to 2017, and apple chicken sausage has grown on menu options by more than 26% from 2013 to 2017. Given the versatility of chicken, and the sweet and savory flavor profile that chicken apple sausage provides, officials say the new product offers premium, on-trend culinary ingredient for customers to add to menus

On the seafood side, King & Prince Seafood, Brunswick, Ga., emphasized flavor last summer with its Alaskan Pollock and Fish Market Fresh (brand) Tilapia. The MSC-certified, Alaskan Pollock fillets were available in three premium coatings: Panko breaded, Oven Ready Breaded and Tavern Battered. Flavor-infused Fish Market Fresh Tilapia fillets were offered in Creamy Butter Herb and Cracked Pepper & Lemon options. 


Form & Function

Of course, some of the best new products aren’t those with consumer trend appeal. Sometimes it’s more important to help restaurants, institutions or deli operators with back-of-the-house issues. 

This March saw Thai Union Group, El Segundo, Calif., win “Best New Foodservice Product” honors in the Seafood Expo North America’s 2018 Seafood Excellence Awards program. Judges recognized the company’s new Chicken of the Sea (COS) Yellowfin Tuna Slices, which COS officials say are world’s first pre-sliced, pre-seasoned tuna slices made from whole yellowfin tuna loins. For restaurant and in-store supermarket deli operators, it represents a healthier, convenient alternative to traditional luncheon meats. 

Two initial flavor varieties, Black Pepper and Cajun are offered, each without preservatives or artificial ingredients. Each vacuum-packed 2lb package contains 16, 2oz yellowfin ready-to-eat tuna slices, with five packages to a case. Chicken of the Sea Yellowfin Tuna Slices are available to be sourced with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. 

In another instance where product form is the star, Tyson Fresh Meats, Dakota Dunes, S.D., partnered with Tyson Prepared Foods to develop a “Chef Inspired Pork Cuts” line of new pork spare rib and pork bone-in loin items. Essentially, Tyson’s work resulted in three distinctive new, offerings—a Petite Pork Loin Rack, Petite Porchetta, and Frenched Spare Rib—that are easy to prepare and help fine dining restaurant and barbecue operators distinguish themselves from competition.

While consumers are familiar with the generic back ribs, spare ribs, and St. Louis-style ribs for barbecue, Tyson’s Frenched Spare Ribs present a more elegant preparation, with the back bone cleaned, and exposed for plate presentation (facilitating a cleaner eating experience). By changing the form of sparerib into a Frenched Spare Rib, operators can change the functionality and occasion associated with barbecue. 

Tyson says its new Petite Pork Loin Rack is a pork chop with smaller sized eye of loin and the back ribs attached. This allows for a thicker pork chop, and a very compact, elegant presentation style more associated with a lamb chop than a pork chop. There is a reduced incidence of product drying out, and offers better portion control. And, at a time when restaurants on both coasts are preparing porchetta as a trendy pork cut, Tyson’s new 10-12lb Petite Porchetta lets operators cut cross section of about 4 inches in diameter—perfect for a sandwich preparation, or an Italian-style antipasti salad build on top of the roasted slice.

At Sandridge Food Corp., Medina, Ohio, officials say some of the company’s most popular new offerings for foodservice and in-store deli operators are individually portioned, fully cooked and marinated chicken breasts in Grilled Citrus and Traditional Blackened flavors. They come individually portioned in and packaged in sous vide bags, which preserve the item’s natural juices and seasonings and help preserve shelf life for up to 80 days.

Because the breast portions are fresh (versus frozen), there’s no slack time required. Likewise, because the items are fully cooked, they are essentially ready to eat and don’t require additional heat treatment to be “sellable.” Individual portions help control shrink on a high-cost protein product. In-store deli operators, in particular, can take out and display only those units needed for the day’s forecast. And if sales are better than expected, it’s easy to restock the display throughout the day.  

Sandridge says its pre-cooked proteins are especially attractive for operators who either do not have grilling equipment in their locations, or have struggled with gaining consistent product flavor and texture between multiple locations.

Originally appeared in the August, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Meat the New Options.