These days, a wide range of inclusions are being used by independent processors to offer customers a variety of desirable options for purchase.
“Any of the condiments will automatically make the product higher value,” says Louis E. Muench, owner of Louie’s Finer Meats Inc., Cumberland, Wis.
While some inclusions are used because they are perceived as healthy by consumers, other inclusions are used based on demographics, fundraising, sports teams, advertising purposes, and seasonal flavors among other reasons. One of the most popular products Louie’s produces is Wisconsin Summer Sausage, an all-beef summer sausage that includes ingredients for which Wisconsin is famous, such as cranberries, cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and honey.
“All of these unique products are items you can’t normally get any place else,” Muench explains. “You become a destination, a conversation, and you can mark it up. We garner ideas from our employees, community, and customers as well as monitor eating habits. Some are tried and fail, and some we make every week.”
At Sailer’s Food Market and Meat Processing Inc., Elmwood, Wis., using inclusions involves balancing flavors, staying on trend with flavors, and trying new ideas, such as new samples provided by seasoning companies, says Jake Sailer, owner of the company. Trying to meet multiple consumer flavor preferences, Sailer’s offers more than 45 flavors of fresh bratwurst alone. Recently, the company introduced a Sweet and Spicy Smoke Sausage along with Pineapple Teriyaki Brats and Snack Sticks. Both of these new product flavors feature balancing a sweet and then spicy flavor experience, and Sailer partly attributes the products’ success to the popularity of sweetness now. Still, the Bacon Cheese Burger Brat is Sailer’s top seller, closely followed by the Ellsworth Cheese Curd Brat.
Most inclusions have some type of hurdle that they have to overcome, which can be challenging, says Jeff Sindelar, professor and extension meat specialist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Ultimately how challenging the inclusion is to use depends on what the inclusion is and what it is going into. Some of the top challenges are balancing flavor and then understanding how to build onto existing flavor profiles from the spices and other non-meat ingredients, Sindelar says. Additionally, texture poses a challenge with some inclusions creating product that have less desirable textures. For example, products that have inclusions like fruits, vegetables, and cheeses, can impact muscle binding and create unique textures.
Generally, inclusions that have natural oils such as olives, are a little bit more challenging to bind into a product and can fall out, Sindelar explains. Some inclusions are very acidic as well and can affect the protein during processing.
While cheese is a top go-to inclusion, each variation of cheese has its own set of challenges to overcome. For example, some of the more robust cheeses that are firmer, such as cheddar, have better structure and are generally easier to use because they disperse and meld well with existing flavors. On the other hand, some specialty cheeses may be harder to make a homogenized mixture along with potentially causing off-flavors when mixed.
Many of these inclusions also are expensive, and some do not complement the meat, Muench adds. Additionally, some inclusions visually confuse consumers, making them think something in the product is bad like a clot or bug, he adds.
Processors are working hard to overcome these challenges through trial and error with development, Sindelar explains. “If it isn’t quite working, they will look at what alternative there is to that ingredient or a different application or a different adjustment to the technology of adding that ingredient that will allow them to be successful with it,” he says.