Meeting the demand for convenience, satisfying snacking, plenty of protein and increasingly clean and claims-based labels: Smoked and processed meats are firing on all cylinders when it comes to today’s top food trends, and the result is revved-up revenue.
Sales of lunchmeat are no baloney—exceeding $9 billion in the past year, according to Nielsen Fresh. Leading the lunchmeat category growth are specialty deli meats, such as chorizo, pepperoni and salami, which represent $200 million in sales, finds Nielsen. The popularity of restaurant charcuterie boards has found its way home, with consumers entertaining with everything from prosciutto to soppressata and Genoa salami.
What’s Fueling Growth?
Bold and unique flavors, products with fewer ingredients, and convenience and snack offerings are also fueling category growth, according to the analytics experts at Nielsen and grocers around the country. “We’re time-starved; we need on-the-go options, and our palates are getting more advanced,” says Sarah Schmansky, director for Nielsen Fresh.
When Tony’s Meats & Market, a specialty grocer with three locations in the Denver area, expanded its conveniently presliced salamis, prosciutto and other high-end meats, the offerings were an instant hit. “We’ve increased our sales,” says Corporate Chef and VP Mick Rosacci. “While some customers still order at the deli counter, we’re seeing fewer folks who want to wait. Now, it’s ‘Give me my meat, and I’m gone,’” he says. To better meet the needs of this changing customer, Tony’s is adding more SKUs to its presliced case this month.
Robust tastes are also resonating with Tony’s shoppers. “Big flavors are really important for us,” says Rosacci, who points to smoked meats with chili flavors such as jalapeno and habanero, Italian herb- and garlic-seasoned meats, and Asian and Tuscan-style turkey breast.
“Bold flavors are rising to the top as a result of the increased multicultural influence happening in today’s environment,” says Schmansky. “This influence spans well beyond deli meat across all of fresh.”
“Consumers are developing a more adventurous palate, and they crave foods that challenge their taste buds,” says Ron Godshall, COO of Godshall’s Quality Meats in Telford, Pa. “One of the things we are perfecting in our new R&D center is blending cutting-edge flavors with the proteins that highlight them.”
Appealing to today’s more sophisticated eaters, Godshall’s is now calling out specific flavors and ingredients in its product labeling. What was once “hot” is now habanero, chipotle and ghost pepper. “Sweet” is now pineapple, maple or bourbon brown sugar. Godshall’s minimally processed, no-nitrates-added Artisan Butcher Turkey Bites offer exotic flavor combos such as Mango Sriracha, Korean BBQ and Teriyaki Pineapple. “The result is a more moist, explosively flavorful variant on jerky that’s still shelf-stable to bring on your next adventure,” says Godshall.
Health-Forward Comes First
While flavor, quality and convenience are key, at Tony’s the No. 1 trend in smoked and processed meats are products that are “uncured” or “no-nitrates-added.” They are claims that speak to the increasingly health-conscious consumer.
“People instantly gravitate to it,” Rosacci says. “Folks have become very sensitive to the ingredients in their food, and customers jump on products with ‘no-nitrates-added’ on the label.”
For Tony’s, selling a higher-quality, real wood-smoked or minimally processed meat with the added benefit of a clean label, is a point of differentiation in an increasingly competitive landscape. “You can buy lunchmeat at gas stations now,” says Rosacci. “We’re a specialty market, so I will always choose quality products with ‘no-nitrates-added’ labels first.”
Clean Labels of All Kinds
“The trend in claims-based meat is just starting to crest,” says Neil Dudley of Hamilton, Texas-based Pederson’s Natural Farms, which offers a full range of smoked and uncured meats that are Certified Humane and made with no antibiotics or hormones. “No sugar added” is also on-trend, he says. Pederson’s is rolling out a line of no-sugar-added deli meats in early 2018. The retailer also launched its first no-sugar bacon several years ago, and the product quickly became its No. 1 SKU.
Niman Ranch in Northglenn, Colo., which recently launched a successful no-sugar-added bacon line, is repackaging its sausages to call out “no-sugar-added” on the label. “We have the no-sugar-added clearly marked,” says Smoke. “We’re also calling out gluten- and dairy-free.”
Today’s consumers have become avid label readers, and when it comes to meat products, they are not only curious about how they are made, but also how the animals are raised. “People really care about animal welfare,” says Kerri McClimen, director of communications for Niman Ranch, which is preparing to launch the nation’s first Certified Humane prosciutto.
While demand for smoked and processed meats with labels indicating “uncured,” “nitrate free” and “no nitrates added” is on the rise, so too is consumer confusion surrounding the meaning of these terms. “Smoked and processed meats can be a very confusing category,” says Rosacci, who finds that customers are increasingly looking for products that are free of preservatives without understanding that these meats need to be preserved to be safe for consumption.
“Nitrate-free” and “uncured” indicate a product is sodium nitrate-free, but it still contains natural nitrates from salt or celery powder.
“I’m in the business and I think it’s confusing,” admits Dudley of Pederson’s. “How is the consumer going to find their way?” Dudley recommends label reading for consumers and educational demos for grocers. “Look at the nutritionals—that’s a piece of the puzzle that is pretty black and white.”
Pederson’s is expanding its team of approximately 10 product ambassadors in its major markets. The team is available to conduct in-store educational demos or meet with department heads on the ins and outs of natural smoked and processed meats.
“There is absolutely the continued need for aggressive education when it comes to claims, specifically attached to meat products,” says Schmansky. A survey conducted by Nielsen earlier this year revealed that consumers’ understanding of claim definitions varied.
From sweet to savory dishes and snacking in between, bacon is one of America’s favorite foods any time of day. Representing a nearly $4.5 billion business in the U.S., bacon is a big deal. “The word ‘bacon’ is like magic,” says Rosacci. “Its popularity is ever-growing.” Tony’s offers a range of branded and private label bacon in different flavors and preparations to appeal to a broad scope of shoppers.
“Bacon always continues to be popular. I don’t see it slowing down,” says Russ Smoke, VP of prepared pork for Niman Ranch, which is poised to expand its brand recognition through foodservice partnerships, including the creation of a precooked bacon for Pret a Manger that launches this month. Niman also created a double-smoked bacon for the Shake Shack chain.
Snacking in the Spotlight
“Convenient, on-the-go snack options are winning across the store, and we’re seeing the same trend within deli specialty meat,” says Schmansky. “Overall, total snacking continues to see year over year growth (3.4% three-year CAGR), and protein-rich portable snacks may be the sweet spot.”
It’s a closely tracked trend for smoked and processed meat suppliers. “We’re seeing that 83% of consumers snack on a daily basis, 94% of adults snack at least once a day, and more than a third of millennials snack as a meal replacement,” says McClimen of Niman Ranch. To satisfy consumers’ hunger for protein-rich snacks, Niman recently introduced snack packs in different varieties, including All Natural Prosciutto and Taralli crackers.
“Snacking is the growth sector you’d expect with consumers on the move,” says Godshall. “Salty snacks, which encompass meat snacks, are poised to surpass $30 billion by most estimates.”
As consumers increasingly replace meals with snacks, the demand for quick and convenient bites that deliver on flavor, satiation and nutrition is sky-high. “Consumers demand things like lower fat, higher protein and labels that don’t sound like a chemistry test,” says Godshall. “Our natural advantage is that, coming from our success with whole thigh muscle, real wood-smoked turkey bacon, we’ve always had an open mind about embracing a trend early to benefit from a strong position as it becomes mainstream.”