Perhaps it’s true when they say “everything old is new again.” It’s a funny play on words but think of “Home on the Range,” Kansas’ state song and a beloved oldie of the West. It mentions buffalo roaming and deer and antelope playing—all out there, on the range.

Let’s fast forward. It seems many supermarket shoppers want to know more about an animal’s origin, feed and growing conditions. Is it natural, organic and/or free of antibiotics and artificial hormones? And did that animal roam free on the range? 

Traceability and wholesome, better-for-you attributes represent just one of several key themes across today’s retail meat, poultry and seafood categories. Other dominant trends involve snacking, flavor and convenience. And not unlike the dairy category, meat, poultry and seafood sections also have growing competition from plant-based, meat-free alternatives.


Snack Attack

Meat, poultry and seafood companies recognize snacking has become the unofficial “fourth meal” occasion. Likewise, consumers remain interested in protein content. Put those two trends together and it’s clear why manufacturers have responded with a host of new offerings in every shape and size.

Not surprisingly, Link Snacks Inc., Minong, Wis., has been active across the jerky and meat bar segments. One of its latest offerings is Jack Link’s Zero Sugar Jerky with 100% lean-meat beef, more than 30g of protein in one bag and now available without added sugar. Also new are Jack Link’s Beef Steak Strips (two flavors), 100% beef bars with 8g of protein and 70 calories each.

Country Archer Jerky Co., San Bernardino, Calif., pushed flavor and clean label appeal with four new meat stick flavors, including: Chorizo Beef, Maple Bacon Pork, Pineapple Pork, and Hatch Turkey. Items feature USDA-inspected 100% grass-fed beef, tender antibiotic-free turkey or pork, and are free of nitrites, MSG, gluten, antibiotics and added hormones. They also contain little to zero grams of sugar, thanks to naturally sweet dates, the company says. Separately, Country Archer also launched Cayenne Beef Bars, Herb Citrus Turkey Bars and Sweet BBQ Pork Bars—all with a boost of collagen peptides. 

Among those also recently promoting new meat snacks were Wenzel’s Farm, Marshfield, Wis. (grass-fed Nick’s Sticks Free Range Chicken); GreenSpace Brands, Toronto (grass-fed Meatbar line in three flavors); Homegrown Meats, San Diego (four new jerky offerings); and Tillamook Country Smoker, Bay City, Ore., (Gourmet Style Snack Sticks).

UNION Charcuterie Crisps

New snacking appeal with texture and premium flavor.

Taking meat snacks into new territory have been companies such as Land O’Frost Inc., Lansing, Ill., and UNION, New York, N.Y. Last year saw Land O’Frost launch Gone Rogue High Protein Chips, a six-item line of crispy, shelf-stable chips in flavors such as Honey Mustard Ham and BBQ Flavored Chicken. More recently UNION used this year’s Natural Products Expo West to introduce its own “charcuterie crisps” with some crunch—in flavors such as Chorizo, Genoa, Salami and Sopressata.

Other new snack options include five new flavors of refrigerated Bold Bites chicken breast pieces from Foster Farms, Livingston, Calif. Packaged in grab-and-go, single serve pouches, the new line includes five varieties including Cajun, Chile Verde, Korean BBQ, Caribbean Jerk, and Parmesan Garlic.

Elsewhere, Columbus Craft Meats, Hayward, Calif., launched premium Columbus Salami & Cheese snacks. SeaPak Shrimp & Seafood Co., St. Simons Island, Ga., also was busy. It introduced SeaPak Parmesan Shrimp & Spinach Bites as well as an On-the-Go Shrimp Cocktail—complete with dipping sauce.


Savor the Flavor, Convenience

Whatever the occasion, it’s important to appeal to consumer interests in taste adventure and/or their need for a lifestyle “solution.” More new products demonstrate these attributes.

How about a fusion of two breakfast favorites: bacon and a Bloody Mary? Wellshire Farms, Swedesboro, N.J., did just that with a new Bloody Mary Flavored Dry Rubbed Uncured Bacon. Or how about a twist with another adult beverage: beer. Coleman Natural Foods LLC, Golden, Colo., introduced a Budweiser BBQ Collection of meats infused with real Budweiser Lager Beer taste.

Or how about a fusion involving a well-known name in a different category. Tuna giant StarKist, Pittsburgh, crossed categories and launched StarKist Chicken Creations, a line of four premium white meat chicken offerings in ready-to-eat pouches. New flavor-forward varieties include BOLD Buffalo Style, Ginger Soy, Zesty Lemon Pepper and Chicken Salad. Elsewhere, StarKist expanded its Tuna Creations line with even more adventurous flavors, including BOLD Spicy Korean Style with Gochujang; Red Curry with Coconut, and Ginger Sesame. 

Rosina Food Products, Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., also used flavor for premium appeal. Its new Rosina Oven Fired Artisan Meatballs (16oz bags) come in flavors such as Pineapple Chorizo, Smoky Maple Bacon and Tuscan-Style Veal.

More new entries pair flavor sizzle with a mealtime solution. Among those combining the two have been seafood processors Phillips Foods Inc., Baltimore; and LoveTheWild, Boulder, Colo. Phillips introduced three snack to meal offerings: Crispy Dim Sum, Crab Rangoon, and Shrimp & Grits. The company notes that first two offerings are handmade in Asia and come with Sweet Chili dipping sauce. They carry a suggested retail of $7.99 to $8.99. 
After its 2016 start-up with a line of seafood kits, LoveTheWild, came back with four seafood Microwaveable Bowl entrees. Co-Founder Jacqueline Claudia says many at-home consumers are intimidated by cooking fish. That’s why the company’s new offerings follow restaurant menu trend with such flavors as a Sweet & Spicy Korean BBQ Bowl with Salmon, Craft Ale Scampi Bowl with Shrimp, Baja Style Fish Taco Bowl with Barramundi, and Hawaiian Style Tropical Bowl with Barramundi. 


Sourcing, Health Messages

Sometimes the best words on a label don’t involve a particular flavor—but say more about a product’s origin. Terms such as “natural,” “organic” and “grass-fed” are what appeal to shoppers. 

Last year saw poultry producers Butterball and Perdue Farms Incorporated announce major new product programs. In conjunction with a tremendous investment in its innovation program. Butterball rolled out an entire new All Natural products line to emphasize simpler labels with no hormones or steroids, no nitrates or nitrites and no artificial ingredients. Elsewhere, Perdue launched PERDUE SIMPLY SMART Organics, an entirely new organic line of fully cooked breaded chicken products—but at a more economical price than typical organic options.

Many more companies touted new meats with “grass-fed” animal origins. These included new organic grass-fed beef hot dogs from True Story Foods, San Francisco; new grass-fed varieties of smoked meat sticks from Vermont Smoke & Cure, Hinesburg, Vt.; and grass-fed all-beef hot dogs and dinner sausages from Verde Farms, Boston.

Seattle's Elysian Brewing Meatless Bratwurst
New meatless bratwurst infused with real beer from Seattle’s Elysian Brewing.

Some companies emphasize a more direct “better-for-you” message with new products. For example, Murray’s Chickens, South Fallsburg, N.Y., introduced Murray’s Omega 3 IQ Chicken. Officials say the birds eat a patented, all-vegetarian, flaxseed-based diet—instead of traditional corn- and soybean-based feeds. The chickens absorb the Omega-3 fatty acids and better-for-you nutrients, and in turn pass them on to the consumer. 

Handy Seafood Inc., Salisbury, Md., used this year’s Seafood Expo North America to introduce a line of “health conscious value-added” seafood items: Salmon Power Burger, Salmon Power Bites, Shrimp Power Burger, and Shrimp Power Bites. Handy’s “Power Foods” contain edamame, spinach, broccoli, lime, scallions, cilantro, sriracha and either Salmon or Shrimp. New 0.5oz bites come in a 12-count pack and 3oz burgers come two per package.

An interesting newer wrinkle on the better-for-you front indeed involves these “blended” items. One of the most interesting new items is a Burger Blend from grass-fed beef processor Teton Waters Ranch, Denver. 

This March marked the launch of these Teton Waters Ranch Burger Blends frozen burger patties, which feature a blend of 100% grass-fed beef and savory mushrooms. The burgers debuted in three varieties: Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper, Mushroom and Onion and Southwest. Officials say all three have a “mindful mix” of 70% grass-fed and finished beef, along with 30% mushrooms. They are Whole30 approved and contain no nitrates or nitrites, no hormones or antibiotics, no additives and no gluten.

“We wanted to offer an easy and convenient burger that was 100% grass-fed and finished and ready to cook and eat in minutes—that did not exist,” said Mike Murray, CEO of Teton Waters Ranch. “Our Burger Blends are ideal for the growing number of consumers who are looking to incorporate more plant-based nutrition into their diet, but do not want to give up high-quality meat. The simple recipe of clean beef, mushrooms and spices creates a fantastic solution for those pursuing a more flexitarian lifestyle.” 

Another new blended product comes from Farmwise, LLC, a Wellesley, Mass., firm known for its all-vegetable products. Last fall saw Farmwise introduce Chicken Veggie Nuggets and Tenders. These items include 100% white meat chicken, raised cage-free and without antibiotics or hormones—all blended with finely chopped farm-grown and Non-GMO broccoli, carrots, white beans and potatoes, the company says.


Where’s the Meat? 

Of course, consumers looking closely in the meat case will find that several new offerings don’t even contain meat. These include new beef replacements from Beyond Meat, Greenleaf Foods, and Lightlife Foods. There even are plant-based seafood entries, including new products from Loma Linda Foods and Good Catch.

An industry leader, Beyond Meat, El Segundo, Calif., first entered retail meat cases in 2016 with its Beyond Burger plant-based hamburger patty. That was followed by Beyond Sausage and Beyond Beef Crumbles. This March the company returned with Beyond Beef, a substitute to ground beef; and in June, it launched a meatier Beyond Burger.

This year also saw quite a bit of activity from Maple Leaf Foods’ subsidiary, Chicago-based Greenleaf Foods SPC. Greenleaf’s Lightlife Foods unit in Turners Falls, Mass., introduced its Lightlife Burger and Lightlife Ground to retailers nationwide. This summer also brought a new, plant-based Field Roast Bratwurst from another Greenleaf business, Field Roast Grain Meat Company. That unit partnered with Seattle-based Elysian Brewing Company on the new bratwurst, which is infused with Elysian beer.

Can you sea even more opportunities? Atlanta Natural Foods LLC, Nashville, N.C., expanded its plant-based line, Loma Linda, with two new plant-based tuna-style alternatives under the TUNO brand. Officials say the fish-less canned seafood is made with a proprietary blend of soy, seaweed, yeast, sunflower oil and other natural ingredients. TUNO comes in easy-open cans and a convenient 3oz pouch in flavors like Sriracha, Lemon Pepper, Thai Sweet Chili and Sesame Ginger.

The past year and a half also has brought the rise of SeaCo Foods International Inc., a Newton, Pa., business doing business as Good Catch. Its growing plant-based Good Catch seafood line includes Fish Free Tuna (in Original, Oil & Herbs, Mediterranean flavors), Crab Free Cakes, Fish Fres Sliders (Thai flavor) and Fish Free Burgers (Classic flavor).

Originally appeared in the July, 2019 issue of Prepared Foods as Home on the Free Range.