Adding an inclusion such as cheese or a combination of inclusions can turn a plain product into a value-added, high-end item. With a wide variety of ingredients from which to choose, processors can unleash their product development creativity and create unique best sellers. Experimentation can lead to a winning combination, like a cheddar and cranberry summer sausage or a… gummi bear brat?

“We did make some bratwurst with gummi bears last year,” says Bill Dayton of Dayton Meat Products, located in Malcolm, Iowa. “There are guys making gummi bear brats and are selling the heck out of them. They had a good taste. [The gummi bears] kind of melted a little bit when they cooked. I tried some candy corn brats once, but they all melted before they got cooked.”

Dayton Meats sticks with cheese and jalapeños as its primary inclusions, though it does make a breakfast sausage that adds in hash browns as well.

“I always wait until the end to put my cheese in; I don’t put the cheese in when I mix it,” Dayton says. He will wait until just before the sausage is ready be stuffed before adding the cheese.

“I think it keeps the cheese from breaking down, so you get a nice piece of cheese that really shows up,” he adds.

Dayton uses dehydrated jalapeños so that the ingredients don’t have to be kept in a cooler or freezer. The dehydrated variety costs a little more, but it ensures consistency in the final product. Dayton adds two scoops of them for every 50 pounds of meat, and judging by the customer response to his products, he’s found a combination that works for him.

Depending on where a company is located, the types or amounts of inclusions can vary greatly. Steve’s Meat Market is located in Ellendale, Minn., and its customers prefer a lot of cheese with their meat. As a result, the company adds more cheese to its products than others.

“I think some people worry about the cost, and you do have to watch for that, because cheese can be expensive. But we like cheese in every bite,” says Rachael Lee, the second-generation operator of the business. “You can’t have too much, but if you have too little, it looks kind of scarce, and you don’t get that extra flavor from it.”

Steve’s Meat Market uses a variety of cheeses in its products, including cheddar, pepper jack, Swiss and feta. The variety and type of cheese varies by product.

“On certain products we like to use a high-melt cheese and a low-melt,” Lee explains. “We like the creaminess of the low-melt, but we like the stability of the high-melt too, where you can visually see it, like in a summer sausage.”

Being located in Minnesota, Steve’s Meat Market incorporates wild rice into many of its products. That may be considered an exotic ingredient elsewhere in the country, but in Minnesota it’s a popular item. Fruit is another frequently-used inclusion, including blueberries, cranberries and apples. 

Lee recommends that processors experiment with inclusions to develop new products their customers may love. As a value-added product, processors can charge a little more while expanding their product portfolio.

“If you’re already making a great recipe for your summer sausage, go ahead and add some cheese or some berries. It’s another way of bringing something new to your customer that your customer might enjoy,” she says.