They say that where there’s smoke—there’s fire. It’s true that plant-based meat, poultry and seafood alternatives are generating headlines (and new products) by the score. Yet it doesn’t take long to see that mainstream meat, poultry and seafood items truly fuel the flame in grocery sales.

Retail data tracker Information Resources Inc., Chicago, listed the top 10 fastest growing edible product supermarket categories—ranked by dollar sales percentage of change—during a 2020 tracking period from January 1, to December 1. Frozen seafood sales ranked third overall with 38% growth during that time and frozen meat ranked ninth overall with a healthy 32.5% boost in dollar sales.

Similarly, IRI’s review of refrigerated products (by department) found meat generated a leading 20.1% increase in dollar sales during the same tracking period. Of the seven top departments, deli meat ranked fourth with a 9.1% dollar sales gain. And when it came to a review of the top fresh categories, meat and seafood claimed six of the 10 leading spots. Top gainers were shellfish (41.1%), beef rib (33.7%), beef loin (27.3%), pork shoulder (26.4%), boneless smoked ham (26.2%) and brisket (25.7%).

Of course, those types of sales gains aren’t lost on retailers and their manufacturer suppliers. For example, regional supermarket Giant Food, Landover, Md., developed its own protein-based cook-in-bag line to help family mealtime. It features 14 meat and seafood entrees that come pre-seasoned or marinated in an oven-ready bag, keeping preparation and clean up to a minimum.

Cook-in-Bag poultry and pork offerings—which can be prepared in the package in either an oven or crockpot—include Garlic and Herb Whole Chicken Roaster, Garlic and Herb Chicken Breasts, Asian Teriyaki Chicken Breasts, Sweet Kickin' BBQ Chicken Breasts, Chimichurri Chicken Thighs, Carnitas Chicken Thighs, Triple Mustard and Honey Roast, Jamaican Jerk Roast, Red Wine & Herb Loin Filet and Greek Seasoned Loin Filet.

Giant’s seafood offerings, which can be prepared in an oven, include Mediterranean Cod, Lemon Dill Scallops, Chesapeake Bay style Shrimp and Bourbon Salmon. Serving sizes vary by offering and all items are ready in an hour or less.

Taking the same approach this January was Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., which launched new flavors of its Tyson Instant Pot Kits, Tyson Instant Pot Seasoned Proteins and Tyson Oven Ready Family Size Kits. New Instant Pot Kits include Creamy Chicken & Noodle Casserole and a Creamy Stroganoff Beef & Noodle. Elsewhere, Tyson expanded its Instant Pot Seasoned Proteins line with a new Chipotle Seasoned Chicken variety. Also new is the Family Size Roasted Garlic Alfredo Fettuccine Pasta & Chicken kit, which provides four to five servings and 21g of protein per serving.


Meat More Options

From coast to coast, there are new retail products from processors who traditionally supply the foodservice-restaurant channel. For example, last year saw Belcampo Meat Co., Oakland, Calif., break into retail with Organic Carnitas and Organic Meatballs. Back East, D'Artagnan, LLC, Union, N.J., introduced five pre-packaged Artisanal Deli Meats including Wagyu Roast Beef, Smoked Berkshire Ham, Hickory Smoked Turkey Breast, Berkshire Bistro Ham and Truffle Turkey Breast.

Another approach has been to offer consumers more items prepared by sous vide, a cooking method more associated with foodservice where it delivers boil-in-bag convenience to back-of-the-house restaurant kitchens. Organic beef processor Verde Farms, Woburn, Mass., introduced Simply Sear It! and Simply Shred It! steaks, steak strips and shreds.

Verde says it seasons its 100% grass-fed, organic ribeyes and butcher's steak medallions with a savory steakhouse rub, vacuum-packages the meat, and then slow cooks it over low heat for over an hour. The result is that consumers can simply heat a “tender, flavorful, and completely foolproof” steak in under five minutes. Other offerings include Simply Sear It! Steak Strips and Simply Shred It! Beef Shreds with flavors such as like Carne Asada and Teriyaki made with all organic ingredients. 

More processors have targeted breakfast segment with tempting tastes for at-home workers. Last year saw Hormel Foods introduce two new Hormel Black Label bacon offerings: Ranch Thick Cut and Classic Country Style Thick Cut. Already known for sausage and hot dogs, Kayem Foods, Chelsea, Mass., introduced its first bacon with two new offerings: Maplewood and Double Smoked. For its part, Johnsonville LLC, Sheboygan Falls, Wis., introduced four varieties of fully cooked Sausage Strips, which looks and cooks like bacon—but is sausage. Varieties include Original, Spicy, Maple Flavored and Chorizo. Each 12 oz. package contains approximately 12 strips, with a suggested retail price of approximately $4.99.

Others targeting breakfast include Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Va., and Golden West Food Group Inc. (GWFG), Vernon, Calif. Smithfield introduced three varieties of new portable, poppable Smithfield Power Bites, each made with real sausage, egg, and cheese. Meanwhile, GWFG extended its popular Meat District brand (associated with burgers) into premium pork sausage. Five new flavors include Original, Hot, Sage, Maple and Chorizo.

Still more new products appeal on the basis of everything from full flavor and convenience to healthy new alternatives. In this instance, Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn., was active across the board. Playing up full flavor experiences are new products such as Lloyd’s Pecanwood Smoked Pulled Pork and Hardwood Smoked Chicken made with two-time world barbeque sauce champion Pig Beach Mustard BBQ Sauce. Available in a 16oz easy-to-peel entrée tray, the products carry a suggested retail price of $5.99 to $7.99. In other news, Hormel introduced Natural Choice hardwood smoked lunch meats. The crafted products – smoked in netting over real wood chips for more than four hours – include flavors such as Applewood Ham, Applewood Turkey with Garlic and Herbs, Pecanwood Ham with Sweet Black Pepper and Pecanwood Ham with Brown Sugar.

Elsewhere, Hormel’s natural and organic brand, Applegate, introduced a new Well Carved line of burgers and meatballs made with meat blended with whole vegetables, legumes and grains. Offerings include Grass-Fed Organic Beef Burger (with one-third cup of cauliflower, spinach, lentils and butternut squash) and an Organic Turkey Burger (with one-quarter cup sweet potato, white bean, kale and roasted onion). Meatball varieties are Organic Asian Style Pork (with one-quarter cup brown rice, green onion, carrot and parsley) and an Organic Mediterranean Style Turkey Meatball (with one-quarter cup lentils, feta cheese and spinach).


Birds of a Feather: Poultry’s Progress

They may talk about “birds of a feather” but there’s no flock or group mentality when it comes to addressing market needs. While there are common themes, poultry processors have embraced several new product strategies. As referenced above, Tyson Foods’ continues pushing into the convenience prepared meals sector. Likewise, Foster Farms, Livingston, Calif., devoted some of its major new product efforts to frozen pizza. Perdue Farms, Salisbury, Md., kicked off last year with an e-Commerce website for direct-to-consumer sales across all of its brands. For its part, Butterball Foods, Garner, N.C., targeted snacking with three new Premium Snacks offerings last January.

Still more processors have directed their new product efforts at at-home restaurant-style products, ethnic adventures and ready meal convenience.

"From coast to coast, there are new retail products from manufacturers who traditionally supply the restaurant-foodservice channel."

In light of the pandemic, foodservice supplier Wayne Farms LLC, Oakwood, Ga., shifted gears and developed CHEF’S CRAFT Gourmet Chicken for grocery distribution. The frozen, fully cooked line includes flame grilled chicken breast fillets; as well as grilled chicken breast chunks that suit salads, rice bowls, kebabs or other uses. Elsewhere, Expresco Foods, Montreal, introduced three varieties of ready-to-heat and serve Grilled Chicken Breast Skewers. The frozen line offers 21g of protein per six-pack and is available in on-trend flavors Lemongrass Thai, Rotisserie Inspired, and Piri Piri. 

Another interesting new ethnic option (in Asian supermarkets) was new Magnolia Chicken Inasal from Ramar Foods International, Pittsburg, Calif. Chicken Inasal is a marinated chicken inspired by the popular grilled chicken originating from Bacolod City Philippines.

Still other poultry processors targeted flavorful meal solutions.  Bell & Evans, Fredericksburg, Pa., introduced Gourmet Chicken Burgers made from whole-muscle dark meat chicken and chunky pieces of real fruit, vegetables and natural cheeses. The 6oz patties come in three varieties: Chicken Bacon & Sharp Cheddar, Roasted Portabella & Swiss, and Granny Smith Apple & Gouda. Out west, Diestel Turkey Ranch, Sonora, Calif., introduced a Sous-Vide Turkey Meatloaf in Traditional and Florentine varieties. Officials say the product’s sous-vide cooking ensures a moist loaf every time. Pre-formed and pre-sauced, it’s ready to serve within 30 minutes after simply re-heating it with a quick boil on the stove-top or warming it in the oven or microwave

Considering certain dietary guidelines? Last year saw natural and organic meats processor Wellshire Farms, Swedesboro, N.J., extend its gluten-free products line with Certified Gluten-Free Turkey and Beef Meatballs. Wellshire (part of Land O’ Frost) also called out sugar as it extended its Garrett Valley Farms brand with Organic Sugar Free Uncured Turkey Bacon.


Seafood: Restaurant—Now Retail

Due to the perceived challenges of preparing seafood at home, consumers typically rely on restaurants to satisfy that craving. However, with restaurants either closed or restricted, more at-home consumers are fishing for retail solutions.

Unfortunately, the pandemic’s breakout forced the mid-March cancelation of Seafood Expo North America, held in Boston. One of the many processors scheduled to exhibit was Seattle’s Ocean Beauty Seafoods LLC, which lined up a host of new products. They included two varieties of Echo Falls Alaska Sockeye Salmon Tapas Slices, suitable for a charcuterie platter; and Ocean Beauty Cedar Wrapped Wild Alaska Salmon, salmon portions seasoned with three bold marinades: Maple Dijon, Citrus Dill and Smoky Grill.

Other processors are offering convenient meal solutions. They included Netuno USA Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Admiralty Island Fisheries, Inc. (Aqua Star), Seattle; and Keyport LLC, Edmonds, Wash. Netuno introduced three Saute ‘n Serve shrimp-based frozen entrees: Etouffe, Scampi and Thai Coconut Curry. Aqua Star introduced six MicroSteam Seafood Bowls that go from freezer to microwave to table in five minutes or less. Keyport LLC added two new items to its Wild Choice frozen seafood entrees for two: King Crab Gnocchi and Lobster Ravioli.

Also active in the freezercase is the SeaPak Shrimp & Seafood Co. (part of Rich Products Corp.), which 
introduced the SeaPak Everything Bagel Butterfly Shrimp, complete with a cream cheese chive dipping sauce. For kids, SeaPak also introduced Shrimp Sea Pals, minced, whole-grained breaded shrimp in starfish shapes. 

Outside the freezercase, consumers found more new shelf-stable offerings from StarKist Co., Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Chicken of the Sea International (Thai Union), El Segundo, Calif. StarKist introduced StarKist Creations Microwavables, a microwave-safe pouch with seasoned, wild caught tuna with vegetables and hearty grains such as quinoa, barley, and brown rice. On sale in the pouched/canned tuna section, varieties include BOLD Spicy Rice & Beans, Tomato Basil, Latin Citrus and Thai Green Curry.

Chicken of the Sea launched Wild Catch, which features premium, wild-caught and hand-selected cuts of fish packed with just water and sea salt. Wild Catch comes in three responsibly wild-caught, preservative-free varieties – Albacore Tuna, Ahi Yellowfin Tuna and Alaskan Salmon – each providing at least 23g of energy-boosting protein per 4.5oz container.