By James Dudlicek
Value-added proteins must be simple, convenient and – above all – a taste of something different.
Consumers are increasingly looking for more than just simple convenience in meat and seafood – they want a restaurant experience at home, but without the price tag of dining out.
"Customers are looking for products that look like someone just made them," says Joe Parajecki, meat manager at Standard Market in Westmont, Ill. "They are looking for the dishes on the Food Network – the more exotic, the better."
Hence the increasing demand for value-added proteins, a recurring theme among presenters at the 2012 Meat Conference in Orlando, Fla., this past February. According to Sherry Frey, VP at the Perishables Group in Chicago, demand for value-added products is rising around the perimeter. Value-added fresh meats – sold at a 30 percent price premium – account for 4 percent of sales and have experienced growth of 7.7 percent in dollars and 3.6 percent in volume, Frey noted in her conference presentation.
The trend was further reaffirmed in the latest Power of Meat study, commissioned jointly by the American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute, which called prepared, grill- and oven-ready fresh meat and poultry "a big opportunity."
The promising trends with prepared center-of-the-plate specialties are hardly lost on aggressive grocers, who are seizing the opportunity to court time-pressed shoppers at the meat case with a growing array of signature specialties ranging from gourmet burgers to meatballs, stuffed entrees, kabobs and much more.
In turn, suppliers are also following the lead in fine fashion, as evidenced by a growing array of new value-added products, many of which were on display at the recent meat conference – items such as Captain Morgan spiced rum chicken wings from Pilgrim's Pride, Hain Pure Protein FreeBird marinated whole chickens, Cargill case-ready beef kabobs, Smithfield rosemary-and-olive-oil-marinated pork, Tyson Backyard Flavors seasoned sirloin tri-tips and Kansas City Steak Co. Asian-style flank steak from National Beef.
"We see trends in restaurants from listening to, and collaborating with, chefs," says Andy Wertheim, president of Newark, N.J.-based D'Artagnan, which displayed its andouille sausage and duck breasts at the meat conference, "then attempt to translate some of these value-added products to the retail level."
Shoppers at Standard Market can expect to find such products in the meat department as bacon-wrapped brie and asparagus-stuffed chicken breasts, and apple-and-cherry-stuffed pork chops. Parajecki says his customers are looking for variety and sophistication. "The days of just making something spicy with habanero chilies are gone. They still want it spicy, but they want it balanced and flavorful, not just hot," he says. "They are looking for ease of preparation. If all they have to do is take a plastic lid off and put it in the oven, they are all for it."
James Berger, director of national sales and marketing at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Beaver Street Fisheries, agrees that on-trend flavors and ease of preparation are important to the value-added segment. "It's not a surprise that with the current economy, consumers are eating at home more often and looking for ways to recreate restaurant experiences at home," he says. "This is especially true when it comes to seafood, as consumers are more apprehensive to prepare it at home." Berger says products such as Beaver Street's Sea Best Seasoned Selections and Signature items, developed after extensive consumer research, "help give consumers confidence in cooking seafood and allow them to bring restaurant-quality meals to their dinner tables effortlessly."
Convenience is also driving product development at Lake Charles, La.-based Big Easy Foods, which offers seasoned, raw, peeled and deveined wild-caught Gulf shrimp in steamable packaging. "It's been well received by seafood buyers," says Michael Lyons, Big Easy's marketing manager. "An 8-ounce bag of shrimp can go from the freezer to the plate in four minutes."
Kent Harrison, VP of fresh meat marketing and premium programs at Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based Tyson Fresh Meats, says consumers are looking for "next-step preparation levels with great-tasting flavor alternatives," such as seasoned and marinated products, and topically rubbed steaks, chops and roasts. "Helping consumers with the next step in meal preparation while still keeping them actively involved in cooking dinner is what we call 'active convenience.'"
But above all, the product has to be good. Says Brett Erickson, director of value-added products for Wooster, Ohio-based Certified Angus Beef (CAB): "Gone are the days where consumers tolerated mediocre meals because they purchased a frozen meal or ingredient."
Festival of Flavors
In the realm of convenience, Erickson says added value "come[s] in many forms, from ingredients to complete meal packages." At CAB, such solutions range from a high-quality frozen steak strip produced by John Soules Foods, to meatloaf and meatballs produced by King's Command Foods, to CAB's first venture into the ethnic arena, a line of Korean-style frozen products including bulgogi (sliced barbecued beef), a bulgogi patty and galbi (sliced, marinated short ribs), by CJ Foods.
Day-Lee Foods Inc. offered its "clean" (steamed and grilled) teriyaki chicken product in a national promotion at Costco, notes James Johns, business director at the Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based company.
Harrison notes that Tyson's Backyard Flavors beef tri-tips "have been one of our bigger success stories. Tri-tips have traditionally been a popular item in California and on the West Coast, but our new product line has caught on with retailers in many areas of the country." Available in Steakhouse, Peppercorn and Santa Maria varieties, they can be purchased in whole and half cuts, "giving retailers and consumers a choice in the size that best fits their needs and budget." Tyson also offers new seasoned and marinated pork products, including Green Chili Fusion Pork Loin Filets and Teriyaki Spare Rib Mini Racks, Harrison says.
Wertheim notes that "the concept of price value has not changed, but weighting of those two variables has, to some extent." Trends such as sustainable farming and hormone- and antibiotic-free products, he says, "have become more a function of lifestyle choice and education rather than price."
Parajecki says value-added products can account for as much as a third of Standard Market's daily meat sales. "We have to make sure we are on top of the current trends to keep sales up," he says.
Suppliers are working with retailers to determine the best marketing tools for their individual objectives. For value-added products, trial is essential. "We've upped our demo budget this year," Lyons says. We know from experience that once the customer tries our products, sales will increase."
Erickson says value-added proteins "are helping keep the shopper in the meat department by providing an increased variety of meal options," noting CAB's marketing has been in line with traditional media like signage, couponing and item-specific POS materials.
When launching its Backyard Flavors brand, Tyson used an on-pack instant redeemable coupon while offering retailers the option to send out a $3 coupon as a direct mail incentive to their most important customers. "Knowing that the advertising flyer is a critical vehicle for retailers," Harrison says, "we offer photography, creative design, ad copy and logo files so that they can put together a terrific ad that reaches customers beyond the store."
More to Come
For one, even more exotic flavor profiles, Parajecki says. "Just watch the Food Network and the Travel Channel and be prepared to source ingredients you have never heard of or have never used before," he says. "I have to react to this and give my customers those things that they saw last night on TV."
According to Berger, "Creating that restaurant experience at home will continue to be important, as well as staying on trend with new flavors that help consumers keep mealtime exciting."
Lyons envisions a greater demand for wild-caught Gulf shrimp-based meals. "It's such a versatile protein, I think we've barely tapped into its potential," he says.
CAB is increasing its focus on marinated products, with a new line of branded marinated products due out soon. "Retailers have recognized this potential, yet producing marinated products in-store presents challenges," Erickson says. "For the consumer, knowing the right marinade is paired with the right cut provides peace of mind that they will have an enjoyable dining experience."
Johns says it's "the duty of manufacturers to come up with better-for-you options for meat products. You're not going to get away from your basic proteins, but take lighter sauces, less breading for chicken or leaner beef while keeping the American palate satisfied and providing a healthier solution."
Wertheim concurs on the health aspect while reinforcing the gourmet angle. "The retail future is in healthful, flavorful meats, mushrooms and charcuterie that simulate what the best chefs of the world use," he says. "Our mantra is, just as you don't have to paint like Da Vinci to use the same brush, you don't have to cook like Julia Child to use the same meats."
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