Meat and Poultry Still at the Heart of Protein Craze

Plants may provide analogues or protein of their own, but America still loves its meat.

By Food Processing Staff

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While plant-based meat alternatives are becoming popular and "cultured" or lab-grown meat looms, America is producing more meat – the old-fashioned, animal-based kind -- than ever. Farmers and meat packers generated a record 100 billion lb. of red meat and poultry in 2017, USDA estimates. And a recent report in the Wall Street Journal indicates they're gearing up for an even bigger year in 2018, thanks to a stronger economy.

Tyson TasteMakersUSDA thinks Americans will consume close to 222.8 lb. per capita. Big meat companies like Tyson Foods and JBS USA are building new plants expected to push U.S. meat production up 3.8 percent this year − the biggest increase in more than 20 years, the Journal reports.

The expanding production is being supported by lower animal feed costs, Rabobank says. In fact, cheap grain may be fueling a beef and poultry boom.

Fueling an export boom, too. Taken separately, beef (at just over $6 billion in 2013), pork ($6 billion) and poultry ($5.5 billion) are this country's third, fourth and sixth largest exports. Combined, they are far and away in the lead. That boom go bust, however, if the Trump administration gets drawn into trade wars with other nations.

The U.S. meat snack segment alone was valued at $2.8 billion last year by Nielsen, and growth rates for beef jerky and other portable protein-rich snacks outstripped conventional savory snacks globally. U.S. meat snack sales are up by 7 percent, assesses Ireland's Research and Markets. The analysts predict European meat snack sales, still in their nascent stage, to reach at least $4.59 billion by 2025.

This popularity is reflected in numerous new product launches. New Jack Link's items hitting shelves include Lorissa's Kitchen Beef Sticks, made from 100 percent grass-fed beef, and Jack Link's 100 percent beef Steak Strips, with 8g of protein and 70 calories each. Golden Island (now owned by Tyson) favors exotic, ethnic blends: Korean barbecue, kung pao and sriracha are among its offerings. Krave (bought by Hershey in 2015) has segued from jerky to meat bars to meat sticks. In addition to jerky and sticks, Oberto (in the process of being acquired by Premium Brands) is slipping some of its meats into protein-heavy trail mixes. Chef's Cut Real Jerky combines its meat with cheese.

Products in the meat/poultry/fish department of most supermarkets are second in sales after dry grocery foods, representing 13.77 percent of the total store sales, says the Food Marketing Institute. Beef alternatives and blended burgers are popular, the latter combining veggies with real beef; but a lot of consumers follow high-protein/low-carb diets like Paleo and Ketogenic, which focus heavily on meat portions.

Talking turkey … and brisket and sirloin

Mighty Spark Food (mightysparkfood.com) is a new line of meat products launching this month. The fresh, ready-to-cook line claims to be hand-crafted, selected for the modern consumer and "sparked" with bold flavors. The turkey patties feature jalapeno and queso fresco, while the beef patties are made of sirloin, brisket and short rib. The breakfast links contain bacon, egg and cheese and the diced chicken is marinated in soy sauce, sake and ginger.

The company has been in the retail market since 2013 with products under the Man Cave Craft Eats label, which emphasized quality over quantity. The owners realized they had the opportunity to go bigger in the market than Man Cave, explains says Nick Beste, founder and CEO, and saw a chance to appeal to wider group of consumers looking for a contemporary, on-trend, premium brand of meats.

Mighty Spark accentuates healthy, low-calorie and enjoyable, Beste says, and its product developers use both conventional and non-conventional methods to develop detail-minded items with the flair of a restaurant, but in new categories. The chicken snack stick line, for example, includes atypical flavor combinations like Honey Jalapeno Chicken and Cranberry Ginger Chicken. Other items include Chicken Power Patties, which cater to flexitarians with a formula of half meat/half vegetables. Mighty Spark's product developers have so far generated at least 40 items ready for the market.

U.S. turkey flocks certainly recovered from the avian flu outbreak in 2015 that led to the demise of millions of birds. Now supply is inflated, pushing turkey prices to some of the lowest levels in nearly a decade. But there's plenty of product development under way finding new applications for this commodity.

Godshall's Quality Meats (godshalls.com), an international provisioner of branded and private-label products, recently launched fully cooked, "natural" wood-smoked turkey bacon. "We didn't accept that turkey bacon was an inferior-tasting product and developed a recipe customers tell us is the turkey bacon that pork bacon consumers love," explains COO Ron Godshall. "We decided not to follow the orthodoxy of splitting off an all-natural brand at a much higher price point."

JENNIE O Uncured Turkey Breast FranksJennie-O Turkey Store, a Hormel Fresh Foods subsidiary, has introduced 17 new products, including "more wholesome twists on hot dogs, bacon and taco meat." Jennie-O Uncured Turkey Breast Franks and Uncured Turkey Franks have 50 percent less fat than beef franks, the company reports, and offer more flavor profiles. The franks are also free from artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, nitrites and nitrates.

Consumers also want diverse, global flavors, so the brand is adding seasoned turkey sausage in Taco, Italian and Chorizo flavors as well as turkey burgers in Bacon and Cheddar varieties. The company has learned consumers also want breakfast any time of day, so is answering that call with Jennie-O Blueberry Turkey Bacon and Jalapeño Bacon. Each promises a delicious sensory experience with 60 percent less fat than conventional bacon products.

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