Despite the popularity of plant-based products, 2018 was a banner year for meat consumption in the U.S., with consumers eating an average 222.4 lbs. of red meat and poultry per person that year compared to 216.9 lbs. in 2017, according to USDA. Preliminary 2019 data is showing another healthy increase.
A relatively strong economy and consumers’ penchant for protein and “natural” food products are helping to fuel the rising demand for meat. Other consumer trends driving demand for meat and poultry products include the craze for snacking and the need for on-the-go convenience foods.
“Fueled by the Paleo and Whole30 lifestyles, there has been an increased awareness of meat-based protein and a renewed interest in beef, chicken and pork snacks,” observes Amy Marks-McGee, the founder of Riverdale, New York-based Trendincite. “Marketing callouts such as ‘premium cuts,’ ‘grass-fed,’ ‘clean-sourced,’ ‘non-GMO,’ ‘antibiotic-free,’ ‘Whole30-approved’ and ‘Paleo-friendly’ are all trending. Meat sticks [including poultry and pork] and jerky are popular, and new applications such as meat chips, bars and nuts are emerging.”
The tendency of contemporary consumers to seek out the new and different also is having an impact on the meat snack category, says Janie Honeycutt, CEO of House of Jerky Inc., Evansville, Ind. “Consumers are definitely more adventurous eaters today,” she emphasizes. “We have been able to expand our product line to include many exotic meats that people have never tried before.
"People are looking for something different from mundane offerings, whether it be something like python jerky or going for the insanely spicy Carolina Reaper beef jerky.” Other wild game or exotic jerky meats sold by House of Jerky include wild boar, venison, shark, snapping turtle, rabbit, camel and kangaroo.
Consumers are also increasingly fastidious about the meat they eat. When it comes to processed meat products, the desire to avoid chemical-sounding ingredients and additives (particularly those with the suffixes “-ite” or “-ate”) remains a robust trend, according to Tom Rourke, business development director for Corbion North America, Lenexa, Kan.
Corbion has responded to these demands “by developing natural phosphate replacements, vinegar to replace sodium phosphate and acerola to replace sodium ascorbate,” Rourke notes. “Consumer demands for simpler, more understandable labels mean we need to provide solutions for natural preservatives/no artificial preservatives labeling.”
Market research corroborates these consumer priorities. In a nationwide survey Cargill conducted in 2018 among 500 deli counter consumers, 62% of respondents said no nitrates/nitrites was important to them, with 36% indicating it was “extremely important,” points out Chuck Gitkin, marketing and innovation lead for Cargill Protein-North America, Wichita, Kan.
Similarly, proprietary research conducted by Westchester, Ill.-based Ingredion–U.S. in 2017 revealed the majority of consumers (52%) prefer to avoid phosphates in packaged meat products.
In the realm of fresh meat and poultry, the desire for traceability, value-added portioning and seasoning are having tremendous influences on brands.
Cargill’s Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms turkey brands have a traceable turkey program. By scanning an on-package QR [quick response] code, consumers are able to trace their holiday turkey back to the family farm where it was raised, access the farm’s location by state and county, view the family farm story, see photos from the farm and read a message from the farmer, according to Gitkin.
Although many consumers are willing to try the highly exotic, traditional meat flavors remain popular. For example, “smoked” and “hickory smoked” are the most common flavors for value-added meat products (typically a product sold marinated), says Corbion’s Rourke, citing data from Innova Market Insights. “Smoked” is also the most frequent flavor claim for deli meats, he adds.
In the shelf-stable meat snack category, consumers still purchase old favorites, although newer products offer the opportunity for discovery. “While there is a demand for new flavors, the classic flavors [such as teriyaki and black pepper] continue to be the most popular,” says House of Jerky’s Honeycutt. Nevertheless, she notes, “Chipotle Bourbon Beef and Whiskey Rabbit have risen in popularity since their release. There has also been a greater demand for super-spicy jerky.”
Global cuisine—from Europe, Asia, Latin America and, increasingly, Africa—continues to add zest to the meat and poultry category. Cargill, for example, identified the need to offer ‘Italian meats’ in its portfolio, so added a premium salami. And the company's Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms Turkey Skillet Kits have flavors inspired by global cuisines, including Tuscan-Style Tomato Garlic Basil, Southwest Style Chipotle Ranchero, Asian Style Orange Ginger and Thai Style Coconut Curry.
Another growth area for Cargill is its Rumba Meats brand of specialty fresh meat products (including oxtail, tripe and tongue) aimed specifically at Hispanic consumers in the U.S. “The Hispanic population continues to grow,” Gitkin says, noting that these consumers are demanding the same value-added product solutions that the general population expects in retail.
Honeycutt points to the increasing popularity in the U.S. of biltong, an air-dried cured South African snack similar to jerky that can be made from beef or wild game. “Our biltong is gluten-free and sugar-free and popular among people seeking a high-protein snack without the preservatives and sugar,” she says.
Meat as a 'trendy' ingredient
International Dehydrated Foods lauds the consumer and diet trends supporting meat ingredients as healthy additions to formulations. IDF specializes in poultry-based products, "from easily digestible proteins to flavorful chicken broths and fats," and focuses on "the most appealing qualities of chicken, from its clean umami taste to its value as a naturally complete, easily digestible protein."
For example, IDF's ChikPro Chicken Protein Isolate delivers essential amino acids to support muscle building and development. "Alternative proteins, such as whey, soy and pea, are not as efficient, so more grams and calories are required to deliver the same dosage of amino acids," says Stephanie Lynch, vice president of sales and marketing. ChikPro products also are carbohydrate-free, which also sets it apart from dairy and plant proteins.
In addition, ChikPro's recently launched Collagen Bone Broth delivers type II collagen, which is known to support and maintain joint health, and it's naturally rich in electrolytes and has even demonstrated a significant prebiotic effect in preclinical research trials.
Ingredion offers a portfolio of additive ingredients including potato and rice starches—binders that enhance various desirable properties of meat and poultry products, from yield to texture to shelf life, notes Zach Gall, the company’s marketing manager for foodservice and meat and alternative meat applications.
The best additive for an application depends on what the customer is looking for, he emphasizes. Given consumer preferences for clean label products, a processor today might prefer not to use modified potato starch, which is typically perceived as less clean label than unmodified potato starch, Gall explains. “However, for a foodservice product, customers might not be looking for a clean label solution,” he says. “They might be more open to modified starches, which tend to work a little better.”
For example, modified potato starch such as Ingredion’s Pengel 8 fat mimetic—which replicates the mouthfeel and visual appearance of fat in reduced-fat hot dogs and minimizes the grease output of sliced pepperoni on pizza—has a significant edge over its unmodified counterpart when it comes to product shelf life.
Also driving additive choice is whether a meat or poultry product will be tumble-marinated or needle injection–marinated. “If it’s a needle-injected product, rice starch tends to work really well because the granules in rice are much smaller, so the rice starch gets pushed through the needles very easily,” Gall explains. For tumble-marinated products, potato starch performs especially well, he says. Potato starch also has a big performance edge in enhancing the sliceability of deli meats, he adds.
Targeting flexitarians—consumers who are trying to reduce but not eliminate their meat consumption—a number of meat and poultry processors have started to introduce products that blend animal and plant proteins. Trendincite’s Marks-McGee points out that Tyson Foods created a blended burger of Angus beef and isolated pea protein in its new Raised & Rooted brand. In addition, she notes, Tyson’s Aidells brand offers its Whole Blends line, which includes four variants of blended chicken and plant-based sausages and meatballs.
Similarly, through a partnership with Sacramento, Calif.-based The Better Meat Co., Perdue Farms recently debuted Perdue Chicken Plus, a line of nuggets, tenders and patties that blends chicken with cauliflower and chickpeas.
What’s more, adds Marks-McGee, the Ellon, Scotland-headquartered BrewDog craft beer company has launched its Hybrid Burger in the U.S. (as well as the United Kingdom and select other countries)—a burger made up of 50% Beyond Burger and 50% “sustainably-reared beef with vegan Gouda cheese, crispy onion straws and a potato rosti.”
Also significant, she says, “The Blended Burger Project by the James Beard Foundation is in its fifth year of challenging chefs to ‘make the iconic burger even better for customers and for the planet by blending at least 25% fresh mushrooms into burgers.’" The organization announced its five 2019 winners in October.