The sausage category goes from the frying pan into the fire when it omes to hot new products, packaging, and consumption trends.
Sausage stands alone as an all-occasion meat product. What other protein can lay claim to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks?
The perennial appeal of meats that are chopped, seasoned, and formed into symmetrical shapes — from breakfast patties to bratwurst sandwiches to dried sausage sticks to pan-fried dinner links — is even more impressive when one considers that sausage remains favorite food choices regardless of the season, general economy, or the region of the country. And sausage continues to grow as a category, although some marketing executives might characterize it as mature.
Sausage continues to ring up billions of dollars in annual retail sales. Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) reports that from November 2002 to November 2003, refrigerated breakfast sausage sales reached $929.1 million, the frozen sausage category totaled $226.4 million in sales, and the dinner sausage segment topped out at nearly $1.6 billion in sales.
Sausage-makers are well aware of the breadth of this product segment and its strength in consumer loyalty. But processors aren’t resting on their laurels or their stuffers and linkers, either, as they continue to develop new products, update packaging, and brainstorm sophisticated marketing plans.
“It has always been a very strong category, and there is still room for growth,” says Nancy Cowen, director of marketing, Bob Evans Farms Inc., Columbus, OH.
Development efforts generally are centered around the basic lure of sausage:its sizzle appeal.
“It’s the flavor, the taste. Sausage is a fun product. It’s good [eaten on its own], and it’s good when you mix it up on a skillet,” points out Charles Armitage, founder and president of Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co., a fresh pork sausage manufacturer based in Vandergrift, PA.
Jim Schloss, vice president of sales and marketing for Smithfield, VA-based Smithfield Packing Co., underscores that the quality and diversity of sausage is one important reason for its day-long consumption.
“It’s [about] taste and versatility. There are a lot of things you can do with sausage,” Schloss remarks.
These days, such versatility is also a plus for consumers following high-protein diets, as they incorporate sausage into their meal plans throughout the day. Although most processors agree that any sales gains linked to trendy weight-loss programs like the low-carb Atkins and “South Beach” diets are difficult to measure, intense consumer interest in protein-rich foods is definitely a plus.
“I don’t think there is any question it has had an effect. Inherently in people’s minds, the words ‘sausage’ and ‘diet’ didn’t seem to go together. But they certainly do today,” says Mike Townsley, president and chief operating officer of Richardson, TX-based Owens Country Sausage, a division of Bob Evans.
As a result, many sausage makers have updated their packaging where appropriate to include banner statements like “no carb” or “low carb.” Smithfield has added such taglines to its labels.
“The Atkins-style program is good for us because in almost every product except hams with some sweeteners, there are products with no carbs,” Schloss says, adding that processors are wise to get into the promotions while the eating plans remain popular. “You need to re-engineer it and reposition it because what was once not good for you is now good for you.”
Certain sausage product lines may garner consumer attention for their protein profile, but product innovations are taking place for other reasons, as well. Interest in unique flavor profiles, a movement some claim spiked several years ago, remains — albeit with different twists. New product introductions for the past year reveal the noticeable growth of ethnic flavors, including popular Latin spices and Asian-inspired seasonings. In addition to ingredients infused into links and patties, many recent product launches are value-added meal solutions, like heat-and-eat sandwiches, wraps, and entrées centering on sausage.
Packaging also plays an important role in maintaining and enticing consumers. Convenience-oriented products, whether pre-cooked sausage links or microwaveable meals, are typically packaged in consumer-friendly formats ranging from recloseable bags and standup pouches to multi-packs and single-serves. And packaging graphics are bolder, brighter, and bigger than they were in recent years.
Innovations in products, packaging, and promotions — the cornerstones of marketing — are taking place in all segments of the sausage category. Major brands are striving to broaden their market dominance, while regional companies are working to stay competitive, and smaller niche sausage-makers are staking out their own specialty turf.
All new product introductions, however, don’t necessarily guarantee a high-profile retail presence. Retailers may be carrying additional products, but more sausage processors are vying for the slots.
“It’s very competitive, and it is dominated by market leaders,” notes James E. “Bud” Matthews, vice president of sales and marketing for Cudahy, WI-based Patrick Cudahy, Inc., which has rolled out its own share of new products and packaging in recent years. “The only way to get into it and make an impact is to be different.”
Competition is fairly intense in the sausage category. Brand leaders remain the most familiar names. In the breakfast category, Sara Lee Corp.’s Jimmy Dean reigns, followed by Bob Evans, private-label products, Odom’s Tennessee Pride, Johnsonville, Clougherty Packing’s Farmer John’s, Owens, Hormel, and Purnell’s Old Folks. On the frozen side, Swift-Premium Brown ‘N Serve leads the pack, with Johnsonville, private-label, Jones, Swift Premium, ConAgra’s Butterball, Jimmy Dean, Hormel’s Jennie-O, and Odom’s Tennessee Pride taking up the other top-10 spots.
In dinner sausage, Hillshire Farm is currently ahead, followed by Johnsonville, private- label, ConAgra’s Eckrich, Sara Lee’s Bryan, Bar-S, Smithfield Foods’ John Morrell, Premio, and Butterball.
Whether a company is a major player with a big budget or a smaller regional processor, marketing remains a key investment to help expand this category. Many processors use packaging as well as traditional advertising campaigns, point-of-sale materials, sweepstakes/limited time promotions, informational Web sites, and public relations programs to convey their messages.
Longstanding companies are not afraid to make changes in marketing as they pursue markets. Sara Lee Corp. made headlines last month when it dropped famous country singer Jimmy Dean as the spokesperson for the brand he founded more than 30 years ago. Dean publicly responded with bewilderment and scorn.
Turning up the A.M. dial
Thanks to traditional morning eating preferences, interest in high-protein diets, and a host of new products aimed at convenience and taste, the breakfast category is waking up to a variety of new opportunities.
For an economy that was at best tentatively rebounding and at worst still soft, the breakfast sausage category still scored a 5.7 percent jump in dollar sales and a 5 percent boost in unit sales over the past year, based on Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data. This category is just shy of the $1 billion mark, with the most recent sales figures estimated at $929.1 million.
IRI also tracks brand and product performance for breakfast sausage. A look at the most recent listing of top-tier brands of refrigerated breakfast sausage demonstrates that while favorite brands and varieties remain dominant, the landscape is changing with more precooked and poultry-based sausages making the top cut.
As is typical of most sausage segments, breakfast brand leaders remain the major players. Jimmy Dean refrigerated breakfast sausage is number one, with $214.2 million in sales for a 23.1 percent dollar share of the market. Bob Evans is next, with just more than $123 million in sales; a closer look at the rankings indicates that Bob Evans sales increased 6.7 percent in the last year, while Jimmy Dean posted a 3.1 percent loss.
Top Five Brands
Latest 52 Weeks Ending November 30, 2003
|Brand || |
% Change Yr Ago
|Total category || |
|Jimmy Dean rfg breakfast sausage || |
|Bob Evans rfg breakfast sausage || |
|Private-label rfg breakfast sausage || |
|Tennessee Pride rfg breakfast sausage || |
|Jimmy Dean Fresh Taste. Fast! |
rfg breakfast sausage
Source: Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago IL
Behind the two big brand leaders, private-label sausage sales also were impressive, gaining 14.1 percent for a total of $63.5 million. Rounding out the top-10 brands are Odom’s Tennessee Pride at $49.4 million, Jimmy Dean’s Fresh Taste. Fast! at $45.6 million, Johnsonville at nearly $44 million, Farmer John’s at $34.6 million, Owens at $27 million, Hormel Little Sizzler at $26.2 million, and Purnell’s Old Folks at nearly $23 million. Of that group, Jimmy Dean’s Fresh Taste. Fast! was the big climber, notching a 37.6 rise in dollar sales versus a year ago.
The big story in breakfast sausage is the ascent of the precooked sausage link or patty. Introduced nearly two years ago, Jimmy Dean’s Fresh Taste. Fast! products are available in links and patties, and are complemented by a line of Fresh Taste. Fast! precooked bacon. Jimmy Dean also offers fully cooked sausage links and patties in a standup bag with resealable strip.
Other brands have also ventured into the precooked breakfast-sausage arena. Patrick Cudahy recently came out with new “Heat ‘N Eat” precooked links and patties for the refrigerated meat case. About a year ago, Bob Evans re-launched its brown-and-serve sausage line, dubbing it Express® and packaging the precooked links in five-count portions.
“We’ve been very pleased with the sell-in of it and the retail and consumer takeaway,” reports Nancy Cowen, director of marketing for Columbus, OH-based Bob Evans Farms Inc.
Likewise, the Owens brand recently rolled out its new precooked line of sausage links in both regular and maple varieties.
“We’ve had tremendous demand for ready to eat,” says Mike Townsley, president and chief operating officer of Richardson, TX-based Owens Country Sausage, a division of Bob Evans. He relates that early feedback has been positive.
“The retailers have really liked this move on our part. Links and patties are probably the fastest-growing area of breakfast sausage, and again, I think it talks to convenience.” To accommodate demand for precooked items and to separate from raw and cooked lines, Owens recently opened a new $4 million ready-to-eat plant in Sulphur Springs, TX, with state-of-the-art production equipment, cooking capability, test kitchens, and a research and development center.
A parallel outgrowth of the convenience factor is the trend for more breakfast meal solutions. Jimmy Dean offers a variety of breakfast sandwiches, including a sausage biscuit; sausage, egg and cheese biscuit; sausage, egg, and cheese muffin; sausage, egg, and cheese bagel; and sausage, egg, and cheese croissant. Beyond its traditional sausage sandwiches, Bob Evans has enjoyed success with its SnackWiches®, bite-size varieties of sausage biscuits, and on the other side of the portion spectrum, larger sausage and cheese “burgers.”
Super-sizing was also a tactic of Odom’s Tennessee Pride, which now offers Jumbo Sausage Biscuits and Jumbo Sausage Biscuits with Eggs and Cheese, along with unique Homestyle Sausage Swirls.
In addition to biscuits, other types of entrée-like breakfast items that include sausages are now on the market. Bob Evans offers several flavors of its Brunch Bowls®, while Owens markets breakfast burritos under the name Border Breakfasts. Jimmy Dean has combined two breakfast favorites, with its Pancakes ‘N Sausage, with sausages wrapped inside a sweet pancake covering.
On a smaller scale, processors are also looking at the flavor profiles of breakfast sausage. Traditional and maple flavors tend to be the most popular, but other ingredients are being added to the mix, as well.
“We have introduced a sage link for our breakfast sausage. Sage is actually the number-four variety of roll sausage for us, and this was a great opportunity because it was an area we hadn’t capitalized on,” Cowen says, adding that at least for Bob Evans, “Consumers really like sage.”
Gourmet breakfast sausages from brands like San-Francisco’s Aidell’s Sausage Co., Chicago’s Hans’ All Natural from Penn Valley Farms, and Chicago’s Sausages by Amy, include flavorful ingredients like apples, maple, and sage. Another Midwest sausage maker, Barrington, IL-based Pure Farms, introduced all-natural pork roll sausage in maple, sage, and apple-cherry flavors.
On a roll
The flurry of activity on the new product side does not spell doom for the humble sausage roll, however. In fact, many processors report that while sales of convenience products are edging up, basic roll sausage remains the volume leader.
“I think breakfast sausage is still breakfast sausage,” observes Jim Schloss, vice president of sales and marketing for Smithfield, VA-based Smithfield Packing Co. “Our Jamestown brand of roll sausage still does pretty well, and it can’t be called a convenience item. It is very regional in nature, and you get many people in the breakfast category who have been doing it that way for years.”
Cowen agrees. “Roll is by far the largest piece of the category — that is the overall lions’ share,” she says.
(Editor’s Note: Frozen sausage for breakfast is considered its own segment, and contains products for breakfast as well as dinner and lunch. IRI pegs frozen sausage with total sales of $226.4 million, led by the brand Swift Premium Brown ‘N Serve at $96.4 million.) NP
Dinner sausage rules!
When it comes to eating occasions, dinner is where it’s at for the bulk of sausage consumption.
What’s for dinner at home tonight? Chances are the answer during the past year for millions of consumers was sausage. Information Resources Inc.’s most recent research reveals the entire dinner-sausage segment enjoyed sales upwards of nearly $1.6 billion from November 2002 to November 2003, with total unit sales of $489.7 million. Growth wasn’t dynamic but was still real, with a 3.8 percent jump in total dollar sales and a 4.4 rise in unit sales from the previous time period.
As in past years, familiar names are the brand leaders. Sara Lee’s Hillshire Farm comprises 23.2 percent of the dollar share, with $362 million in sales, but this year, the brand slid 6.8 percent from last year’s totals. Moving up was Johnsonville, gaining 11.7 percent to take the second slot at nearly $171 million in sales. Meanwhile, private-label dinner sausage also improved, jumping 8.9 percent to reach $123.7 million. Others in the top 10 include Eckrich at $113.6 million, Bryan at $37.7 million, Bar-S at $25.2 million, John Morrell at $21.1 million, Premio at $19.9 million, Butterball at $18.6 million, and Hillshire Farm Little Beef Smokies at nearly $17.9 million.
Top Five Brands
Latest 52 Weeks Ending November 30, 2003
|Brand || |
% Change Yr Ago
|Total category || |
|Hillshire Farm rfg dinner sausage || |
|Johnsonville rfg dinner sausage || |
|Private-label rfg dinner sausage || |
|Eckrich rfg dinner sausage || |
|Bryan rfg dinner sausage || |
Source: Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago IL
The biggest gainers in this segment came further down the list, with Aidell’s dinner sausage jumping 25.1 percent to $17.7 million in sales and Eckrich Smoky Links rising 22.7 percent to $17.2 million.
Big on flavor
Behind those figures, the double-digit increases appear to have been made by more flavor-oriented products, continuing an overall segment trend of the past decade toward more savory ingredients. While not quite at the same pace of the mid-1990s, flavorful sausages continue to be introduced, many with ethnic profiles like Mexican, Cuban, Latin American, and Asian.
Gourmet sausage companies that helped fuel the growth of distinctive ingredients, like Aidell’s, Hans’ All Natural, and Sausages by Amy, also regularly introduce new items, typically in precooked link form. Los Angeles-based Jody Maronis Sausage Kingdom is another example of an innovative upstart. It recently concocted a Cubana-Style Smoked Chicken Sausage with Plantains and Garlic.
Although spinach, feta cheese, and chipotle peppers may be mixing things up a bit in the dinner-sausage category, there has also been a noted shift back to traditional flavors. Jim Schloss, vice president of sales and marketing for Smithfield, VA-based Smithfield Packing Co., has seen the trend firsthand.
“What we’ve heard from consumers [as to] why they like our sausage are the bite and the flavor. We’re really taking sausage where it used to be,” he says, adding that the company recently introduced all- meat (beef and pork) Natural Hickory Smoked Sausage, Polska Kielbasa, and Beef Smoked Sausage in late 2003.
“These were developed because of the large amount of poultry and poultry-added smoked sausages that [we believe] are inferior in flavor and texture,” he adds.
Basic product forms also seem to perform the best for dinner occasions, Schloss says. “Smithfield’s most popular dinner sausages are our smoked sausage in loop and stick form. The popularity is fueled by convenience, the Atkins Diet and ease of preparation,” he relays.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some innovative twists on traditional dinner-sausage forms. Uncle Charley’s now offers a line of “Flat Grillers” in hot and sweet Italian varieties.
“It’s a patty, but another way of seeing sausage. We make a lot of tube and casing sausage, and thought this is one we don’t have, let’s try it,” says Charles Armitage, founder and president of Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co., Vandergrift, PA. “The flavor is more intense, it cooks a little faster, and it is used on a hamburger bun instead of a hot dog bun.”
While many sausage products are made to be center-of-the-plate items by sautéing, broiling, grilling, or microwaveing, sausage is also a top dinner choice because of its flexibility.
“Sausages have remained such a popular meal solution because they go well with pasta and rice; they work well as pizza toppings; they work well in Italian and Mexican dishes, and they take less than ten minutes to prepare and serve,” Schloss observes. “It works out well as an ingredient.”
Nancy Cowen, director of marketing, Bob Evans Farms Inc., Columbus, OH, agrees, and says that the company often puts meal suggestions into customers’ hands.
“This year we’ve introduced our latest Bob Evans cookbooks, which features one-hundred recipes broken down across dayparts, including dinner,” she says, citing ideas like incorporating sausages into lasagna, spaghetti sauce, pizzas, tacos, and Sloppy Joes, among other meals. “Sausage adds tremendous flavor.”
Even breakfast-style sausages often double as ingredients in suppers, says Mike Townsley, president and chief operating officer of Richardson, TX-based Owens Country Sausage. “Our Italian is used heavily in afternoon in recipes for lasagna and items like that,” he says.
If ready-to-cook raw sausages aren’t convenient enough, precooked dinner sausages and heat-and-serve entrées featuring sausages are another increasingly visible option at grocery stores. Johnsonville, for example, has expanded its line of precooked bratwurst and Italian sausage: the company’s heat-and-serve links are sold in resealable laminated pouches in quantities of 12, and can be microwaved in 90 seconds. The John Morrell division of Smithfield Foods also has come out with heat-and-eat items, including a new fully cooked bratwurst.
Like the breakfast category, value-added meal items with sausages are booming. Hans’ All Natural gave the concept its own twist with new gourmet poultry sausages wrapped in baguettes: Hans’ Wraps are available in spicy Hell’s Kitchen, savory Santorini, and rich Sonoma varieties. Burnsville, MN-based Lettieri’s also enrobed products in dough, recently launching microwaveable Wrap-Dog sandwiches, including a Maple Flavored Sausage and a Smokie Link with Cheese.
For both traditional and emerging products, marketing and promotional campaigns for dinner sausages often capitalize on the products’ convenience, flavor, price, and versatility.
“We are really a twelve-month company compared to some other companies,” points out Schloss. “We pay attention to nutrition in the first quarter, grilling starts in the spring and summer and runs into tailgating — which has become a very important event. Then in fall, it’s about going back to the kitchen, followed by the holidays.” NP
Life’s-blood keeps flowing
Innovative new product introductions keep re-energizing the sausage industry.
Sausage may be a centuries-old product, but there’s certainly no end to ingenuity when it comes to the simple but delectable combination of ground meat or poultry and seasonings. (Alas, one small but growing area that meat-based processors should watch out for is the number of new “sausage” items actually made from soy, tofu, or other vegetarian ingredients.)
Marketing Intelligence Service Ltd., the Naples, NY-based publisher of Productscan Online (www.productscan.com
), relays there were dozens of new sausage products introduced in the past year, including links, patties, “burgers,” and multi-ingredient entrées and meal solutions.
For fresh sausage, the trend over the past decade toward more flavorful varieties has not abated. Fabrique Delices, Hayward, CA, for instance, recently developed all-natural pork sausages made with herbes de provence. Chipolata Aux Herbes, comprised of Niman Ranch all-natural meats seasoned with various herbs and wine, are available in six-count packages. Banking on the popularity of maple and sage breakfast sausage, another gourmet processor, Pure Farms of Barrington, IL, included those traditional flavors for its new all natural pork roll sausage, along with an Apple-Cherry variety made with real Michigan cherries.
Consumer interest in ethnic cuisines is exemplified in other rollouts. Clougherty Packing Co.’s Farmer John brand now includes a new Chorizo in Traditional and Spicy Hot flavors, sold in plastic wrappers. Gourmet Kosher Foods, based in Beverly Hills, CA, also went global, offering new Tunisian and Moroccan beef and lamb sausages.
Hard to beat heat-and-eat
Processor interest in offering fully cooked sausage products continues in full force. Jimmy Dean has complemented its wide variety of pre-cooked items with new Heat ‘N Serve fully-cooked sausage links and patties sold in larger “value size” packages with a resealable closure.
Also in the past year, Bob Evans repacked its brown-and-serve style products into a new line of Express® fully cooked microwaveable pork sausage links. The company rolled out its Original flavor first, in a box containing two stay-fresh pouches with five links per pouch, and then followed up with Maple and Lite varieties later in 2003. The Lite, relays Bob Evans’ nutrition information, contains 50-percent fewer calories and 60-percent less fat than USDA data for cooked pork sausage. Owens Country Sausage, a Bob Evans company, also delved into this arena with a new line of fully cooked links to complement its line of refrigerated links and patties.
For Patrick Cudahy, switching to refrigerated fully cooked items required an entirely new process and packaging line. Previously, the company had offered frozen sausage, but recently determined that the fresh-meat case was a draw not to be missed.
“It was a whole new way of packaging for us,” says James E. “Bud” Matthews, vice president of sales and marketing for Cudahy, WI-based Patrick Cudahy Inc., on the new 7-ounce precooked links and patties sold under a “Heat N Eat” banner. “Consumers can now locate these breakfast favorites along side the bacon or roll sausage in the refrigerated breakfast sausage sections,” he adds.
Beyond breakfast, fully cooked items are designed for other eating occasions. Smithfield’s John Morrell brand, for example, unveiled new Xtreme Grillers, a line that includes franks as well as sausages, such as a Beef Smoked Sausage with Cheese and Jalapenos, Premium Smoked Sausage, and Fully Cooked Bratwurst. Johnsonville Sausage has expanded its pre-cooked offerings as well, introducing new bratwurst and Italian sausage varieties under its Heat & Serve banner. The frozen links can be microwaved in about one minute-and-a-half.
Gourmet or upscale fully cooked sausages remain another contender in the category. Aidells Sausage Co., known for its boutique-style sausages in flavors ranging from Whisky Fennel to Burmese Curry to Hot Creole, introduced another new product last summer, Portobello Mushroom Sausage. That variety is made from a blend of field mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms, and the essence of porcini mushrooms. And Jodi Maronis Sausage Kingdom, Los Angeles, was inspired by the Caribbean for its new fully cooked Cubana Style Smoked Chicken Sausage with Plantains and Garlic, sold in a 1-pound package.
Other types of heat-and-serve sausages are still in test marketing. Productscan Online relays that Hillshire Farm Recipe is working on a new line of “Recipe Ready Slices,” seasoned sliced sausage pieces in Italian Style, Chicken, and Sun-Dried Tomato and Polska Kielbasa varieties.
Smoked sausage, perhaps the originator of the notion of the current crop of convenience-oriented products, also continues to be reformulated and introduced. Sara Lee’s Ball Park brand, for example, went for size in its latest development, offering new Bun-Sized Smoked Sausage in Regular and Hot & Spicy, sold in resealable 16-ounce boxes. Hormel, meanwhile, has gone for the snack-size option, creating new Snack Size Deli Meat, with slices of hard salami and summer sausage sold in 32-count, six-ounce recloseable plastic packages.
Getting the dish
The success of corn dogs, pigs-in-a-blanket, and sausage-and-egg biscuits has shown over the years that processed meats are a natural meal solution ingredient — and this includes sausages. Odom’s Tennessee Pride, which has long marketed sausage biscuits, added to its lineup recently with new Homestyle Sausage Swirls, Homestyle Sausage Wraps, Jumbo Sausage Biscuits, and Jumbo Sausage Biscuits with Egg and Cheese.
Bob Evans was also busy on this front, adding to its popular line of Snackwiches® with fully cooked and individually wrapped Large Sausage Cheeseburgers, sold in packages of four, and a new frozen Original Sausage Gravy & Biscuits entrée. The brand also now offers a larger 16-count size of Sausage Biscuit Snackwiches.
The Hans’ All Natural brand has entered into the value-added meal solution segment, as well. For the first time, the brand is enhancing its line of pre-cooked links with new Hans’ Wraps, made with baguette dough and gourmet chicken sausages. Rolled out last fall, the line includes Sonoma, containing sun-dried tomato and fresh basil chicken sausage wrapped in tomato and basil bagel dough; Hell’s Kitchen, with spicy fresh cilantro and roasted garlic chicken sausage wrapped in chili pepper bagel dough; and Santorini, with roasted artichoke and calamata olive chicken sausage wrapped in asiago cheese baguette dough. NP
The package can make or break any new product introduction.
Natural and synthetic casings may be the primary sausage package, but product packaging has come a long way in recent years. Although conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, marketers hope you judge a package by its appearance.
To that end, sausage packaging is developed to help create a brand image, with labels walking the line between too much information and just enough. Many packages now feature bigger logos and brand names, enticing photography or illustrations, along with recipe suggestions, as well as nutritional and other product information on the back or side.
Hillshire Farm recently revamped the look of its packages. Although a category leader, parent company Sara Lee wanted to freshen up the brand’s appearance.
“Hillshire Farm has been America’s favorite sausage for seventy years, and consumer needs have changed considerably in the twenty-five years since the last logo redesign,” says Debbie Vicchiarelli , vice president of marketing. “We wanted a more contemporary logo and package design to reflect how well Hillshire Farm sausage fits today’s lifestyles.” The new streamlined logo makes packages easier to find, while the label provides more easy-meal suggestions, she adds.
Owens Country Sausage also made changes to its labels, updating the logo, enlarging product names, and making colors and photography “pop”.
“Our ability to get our product recognized in the case is paramount. You read statistics that so many consumers are making decisions on the spot, so being able to capture attention is key,” notes Mike Townsley, Owens’ president and chief operating officer.
Terry Russell, Owens’ vice president of sales, adds that the revamped packages are color- coded for quick recognition.
“We have different colors for dinner products, depending n the flavor,” he explains. “It is really a rainbow effect and allows for consistency across the line.”
Meanwhile, when Patrick Cudahy Inc. evaluated packaging for its new breakfast links, it also changed the form of the actual product. The company recently added a line of refrigerated Heat ‘N Eat breakfast sausage to its roster, and designed a package that would stand out against other national brands.
“You think of breakfast meats and go to the refrigerated breakfast meat section,” says James E. “Bud” Matthews, vice president of sales and marketing for Cudahy. “Our goal was to get it out of the frozen case and into the fresh-meat case.”
To draw attention at the case, the Patrick Cudahy team chose a reclosable gusset bag with a nitrogen/carbon dioxide back-flush for freshness.
“The equipment came from Europe, and we worked locally with some film manufacturers to develop the package,” Matthews explains, adding that the graphics are simple to understand with prominent brand placement.
Like Cudahy’s package, ease of use in packaging applies both to visual and functional components. For many sausage products, simple-to-open features, such as recloseable strips and zippers, are growing. Stand-up pouches for frozen products and even some refrigerated products often include some type of reclosability, while pull-off tabs on paperboard boxes are designed to be quick and simple. NP
Building for the future
Processors must keep the sausage business momentum moving forward.
The sausage category is a mature niche enjoying continued growth and diversification at a time when the economy is looking up, consumers are embracing diets rich in meat and poultry products, and versatility and convenience remain key drivers.
Overall, things look good for this stalwart segment. But that’s not to say that challenges don’t exist for the future. Processor marketing teams understand this fact, and they think ahead accordingly on efforts ranging from product R&D to processing and packaging technology to communications plans.
On the product side, it is important that sausage items continue to be introduced in all shapes and sizes and for different dayparts.
“You have to just keep building. We keep driving it,” says Charles Armitage, founder and president of Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co., Vandergrift, PA, which recently positioned new patty products as “Flat Grillers” for quick and easy sandwich applications.
Most major processors launch at least one new product every year or 18 months, and many regional brands and specialty companies are keeping pace. Such R&D growth helps to expand the category and reach out to new consumers.
Marketing support a ‘must’
Support for well-planned and executed marketing campaigns is also critical to continued sales and possible new avenues of distribution. Given the trend of consolidation within the processing, retail, and foodservice industries, making promotions easier and more helpful for retail or foodservice customers is a strategy that is becoming more important for many processors.
“Our focus in marketing and promotional plans has been on customization to the retailers’ needs. We do our marketing on a specific customer basis — we do very little on a broad basis,” says Jim Schloss, vice president of sales and marketing for Smithfield, VA-based Smithfield Packing Co., “We found it easier to work that way.”
Chain-tailored or regionally specific programs include cross-promotions with other items, sweepstakes, sampling, and targeted radio and print advertising, Schloss adds.
Creating product and promotion ideas doesn’t happen without production support. To that end, many manufacturers are making investments at the plant level, updating processes and equipment technology — and in some cases building new facilities. Uncle Charley’s, for example, installed faster machinery last year.
“It is state-of-the-art equipment. We are not the biggest company, and the way to compete is through better and faster equipment,” Armitage says, adding that the plant can now process 30,000 links an hour and wrap 120 packages a minute.
Owens Country Sausage also decided to capitalize on the growth of convenience items and pre-cooked products, and it opened a new state-of-the-art facility in Sulphur Springs, TX in December.
“We needed to expand. We were out of room in our other location, and we thought it was important from a total food-safety standpoint to create as much separation as possible from raw and ready-to-eat products,” explains Mike Townsley, president and chief operating officer. Among other features, the 56,000-square-foot plant includes new machinery, new packaging equipment, expanded cooking capability, and an advanced test kitchen.
Equipment suppliers will continue to work with sausage manufacturers in the future, sometimes coming to them with new advances and other times taking input from processor customers to create high-tech equipment to further output, improve efficiencies, and help ensure safety and security.