Editor’s Note: This article originally published in Prepared Foods magazine,
a sister publication of The National Provisioner in the BNP Media portfolio of brands. For more on the topic, visit www.preparedfoods.com.

They say that where there’s smoke there’s fire. So, casual observers might suspect that the biggest new product news in foodservice meat, poultry and seafood—is that there’s actually no meat whatsoever.

This year’s National Restaurant Association (NRA) show in Chicago featured many exhibitors promoting plant-based products. For its part, The Good Food Institute (a non-profit dedicated to plant-based foods) identified 21 NRA exhibitors that showcased new plant-based meat options. And of 32 honorees in this year’s 2019 NRA Food and Beverage Awards (FABI), there were eight meat, poultry and seafood winners—including three plant-based products: Beyond Meat’s new Beyond Beef ground beef, Impossible Foods’ upgraded Impossible Burger, and a new UNCUT Breakfast Sausage Patty from Before the Butcher, Irvine, Calif.

Perhaps this all simply mirrors results from NRA’s 2019 “What’s Hot” survey of approximately 650 professional chef members of the American Culinary Federation. Asked about this year’s trends, 67% of those surveyed identified “veggie-centric cuisine” and 64% specifically pointed to plant-based sausages and burgers.

diced pork belly

US Foods’ Chef’s Line All Natural Hickory Smoked Diced Pork Belly is smoked for four hours, eliminating costly time, labor and the need for special equipment. It’s pictured here in US Foods’ new “to-go” packaging, which is 100% compostable. PHOTO COURTESY OF: US FOODS (WWW.USFOODS.COM)

Also looking at the market is NPD Group, which reported this January that case shipments of plant-based protein from broadline foodservice distributors to foodservice operators increased by 20% in the year ending November 2018 compared to year ago with all Census regions showing double-digit growth.

NPD said burgers represent the largest plant-based foodservice category and have year-over-year double-digit growth in pounds shipped to foodservice operators, and it’s plant-based burgers that are showing up the most on many restaurant menus.  Although plant-based burgers are popular across demographics, an analysis done with NPD’s receipt mining service, Checkout, shows that smaller, more affluent ($100,000 and up) households are the top buyers of plant-based burgers.  

Even so, plant proteins by no measure have replaced consumer favorites on restaurant menus. To better understand beef trends at foodservice, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and Beef Checkoff program completes an annual foodservice volumetric study to measure operator purchases and distributor sales of beef and other proteins across all foodservice operator segments.

Alison Krebs, director of market intelligence for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, writes that beef accounts for fully 16% of total foodservice food and non-alcohol purchases, making it the most prominent ingredient at foodservice.

meatless breakfast sandwich

Award Winner: Before the Butcher, Irvine, Calif., won a 2019 NRA Food and Beverage Award for its UNCUT meatless breakfast sausage patty. PHOTO COURTESY OF: NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION (WWW.RESTAURANT.ORG)

In a study summary this May, she observed, “Overall, animal protein purchases continued to increase in 2018.  Total foodservice volumes grew 1.1% to 26.464 billion pounds over the prior year and are up over 4.4% since 2014.  Consistent with the overarching trend, consumers are enjoying more meat, poultry, fish and seafood at foodservice.  While 31% of this volume is chicken and 30% is beef, beef’s wholesale purchase value exceeds that of chicken by 37.6%.”

She then concludes, “In total, 2018 foodservice beef purchases exceeded 8.028 billion pounds or $31.205 billion.  When compared to the prior year, volume was 0.1% lower while dollar purchases increased 3.3%. Given beef’s strong performance at retail and in export markets—along with traffic challenges amongst casual dining chain establishments—this volume change at foodservice is in-line with available beef supplies. The price inflation, however, implies stronger consumer demand is driving operators’ increased willingness to pay for beef.”

Looking more closely at new product trends, it’s clear that meat, poultry and seafood processors are addressing consumer interests in flavor and new food experiences. Still more new products help operators address back-of-house labor issues and consumers’ concerns about ethical sourcing and sustainability.

New Flavors, Options

What new products have operators fired up? Again, new product awards quickly point to these trends.

Also among this year’s FABI honorees was Grecian Delight Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., which earned two awards for its ReadyCarved Al Pastor Pork Slices and ReadyCarved Natural Halal Shawarma Slices. Two other winners were Kronos Foods Corp., Glendale Heights, Ill., for its oven baked Turducken roast; and Trident Seafoods, Seattle, for its 10g Protein Noodles, a protein rich and gluten-free noodle made with wild Alaska pollock. A 3oz serving contains 10g of protein, 7 carbs, and 70 calories. They also are gluten-free, fat-free, and contain 70mg of Omega 3s.

Speaking of seafood, East Coast Seafood LLC’s Lobster Macaroni & Cheese Bites won the “Best New Foodservice Product” honor in the 2019 Seafood Excellence Awards this spring in Boston. The awards are part of the Seafood Expo North America convention. East Coast Seafood says its appetizers are deep fried and combine lobster with a creamy mixture of macaroni and a three-cheese blend (Parmesan, Asiago, Mozzarella), enrobed in a savory, crunchy golden- brown coating.

Other interesting new flavors and forms include US Foods’ Corkscrew Calamari and Sysco Corp.’s Wild Alaska Pollock Bites. Operators also can feature one of market’s hottest flavor sensations in sandwiches, appetizers and more—with Tyson Foods’ Nashville Hot Chicken. The Springdale, Ark.-based company also created Tyson Chicken Chips for snacking variety.

At Your Service

More innovations may not be quite as obvious to foodservice patrons but they do appeal to operator customers.

Yet another 2019 FABI winner was Sauté and Serve line of individually portioned gourmet shrimp dishes from Singapore’s LP Foods Pte. Ltd. Ready in just seven minutes, these offerings feature fresh stocks, fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and spices, and all-natural shrimp. Sauté and Serve’s unique design and delivery gives the user an exact recipe cost and provides ease of inventory management with zero waste.

Among other new offerings is Tyson’s Precision Cooked Chicken, a sous vide prepared item that comes in three premium options and is fully cooked to speed up prep and assure food safety. The sous vide process lets each product cook in its own juices to create tender texture and neutral flavor.

For its part, Sysco also developed Sous Vide Pork Belly and a premium lobster tail offering that comes pre-split with the meat lifted out of the shell (saddleback-style), for “an effortless superior presentation,” the company says. Elsewhere, US Foods introduced an all natural Hickory Smoked Diced Pork Belly and an all natural Sliced Fire Grilled Chicken Breast. To help restaurant owners with quick preparation and consistent portioning, this second item, a flame-seared whole muscle chicken breast, comes pre-sliced and is fully cooked with defined grill marks.

Helping restaurants and school foodservice operators alike is Hormel Foods and its Jennie-O Turkey Store business. In the first case, Jennie-O, Willmar, Minn., created a Hardwood Smoked, Bone-in Dark Turkey Meat offering.

Grecian Delight

Easy Ethnic: Grecian Delight won two 2019 NRA FABI awards for its ReadyCarved Natural halal Shawarma Slices (pictured) as well as its ReadyCarved Al Pastor Pork Slices.

“Our ultimate goal at Jennie-O is to have turkey eaten at many more menu occasions and prove that turkey is not just for a holiday meal,” the company says. “We also wanted to create a product that was already cooked so that operators would simply have to warm it up, remove the one bone and have a delicious and moist product that is practically fool-proof. We also needed this product stay moist and be extremely versatile making it a great ingredient for a number of dishes. The trend of smoked items continues to be hot right now.”

Officials conclude: “Our task in developing this item was to create a fully cooked product that would be moist and tender and deliver a great smoked flavor—almost as if it had been smoked in the back of the house, but within a very short time period.”

 This July, Cargill Protein Foodservice, Minneapolis, used the School Nutrition Association’s annual national conference to showcase new Shady Brook Farms turkey products.  A new Turkey Pot Roast (breast and thigh) comes with turkey gravy inside an ovenproof bag. This makes reheating easy and convenient for school foodservice staff. Turkey Pot Roast is perfect for turkey stroganoff, stir fry or on a build-your-own meal station for kids who love to customize their own food. Also new is Thick Sliced Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast. Here, premium pre-cut thick slices of fully cooked all-white turkey slices are packaged in a convenient waterfall sleeve for easy access. This product is versatile for sandwiches, wraps, bento boxes or grab-and-go snacks, the company says. Lastly, Cargill says new Turkey Crumbles are ideal foundation for breakfast pizza, breakfast and lunch tacos, chili, sloppy joes and more.

Assured Sourcing

Not all new product announcements focus on new food ingredients. Instead, they showcase what might be considered “social ingredients” related to animal care, welfare and sustainability.

In conjunction with a flood of new products this spring, US Foods expanded its Serve Good program and announced that each of 24 new items fell into one of the following Serve Good categories: agricultural practices, sustainable seafood, animal care, responsible disposables and reduced waste. This included Skinless Barramundi that’s ocean-farmed and four-star certified for Best Aquaculture Practices; as well as new turkey products “raised without antibiotics.”

Likewise, Perdue Farms Foodservice promotes that its HARVESTLAND chicken and turkey products contain “no antibiotics ever” and that the birds receive a 100% vegetarian diet with no animal by-products.

Elsewhere, Tampa Maid Foods, LLC kicked off 2019 by announcing its partnership with the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI). Officials say GSSI’s Global Benchmark Tool assesses seafood certification schemes, both aquaculture and wild caught, against a globally recognized set of criteria rooted in the United Nations FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and United Nations FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines. This increases transparency and credibility in seafood certification and in turn, enables informed choices for procuring certified seafood. NP