It is widely known to marketers everywhere that it’s very important for a business to convey a consistent and accurate understanding of what its brand name or company represents.

And just how critical is it? Very.

Just ask some of the sausage industry’s heavy hitters.

Through the use of consistent long-term branding strategies, companies such as Odom’s Tennessee Pride, Bob Evans and Johnsonville have all come to represent a very specific product image. Many of the brands or vendors listed in each category in this year’s Annual Sausage Report have held leadership positions for several years, but some are slipping. And for those testing the top spots — or trying to hold on to a current one — getting there, or maintaining a seat, has its challenges. A line extension with an innovative benefit such as a packaging or healthful and/or taste innovation, for example, can be just the ammunition needed to overthrow a leader, maintain a position, or move up in the ranks.

The sector

Although category sales of breakfast sausage are flat, says Mark Newell, director of marketing for Madison, Tenn.-based Odom’s Tennessee Pride Sausage Co. Inc., the future of the category would appear to hold opportunities for companies to provide consumers with “convenient breakfast meal solutions.”

In order to continue the growth Odom’s has enjoyed over the past few years, Newell says the company needs to continue to improve the attributes of its products in terms of taste, convenience, health and value.

“Our mission in the marketplace is to continue to build our brand awareness in all of the geographic markets in which we sell product,” says Newell. “We will do this through working closely with our retail partners, consumer advertising, promotions, new product news and attention to retail distribution.”

What’s more, consumers are discovering the versatility of sausage and accordingly, the usage of sausage is becoming more widespread and varied, says Kevin Ladwig, director of science and procurement for Johnsonville Sausage LLC., Sheboygan Falls, Wis.

According to Tom Wolff, director of marketing for Johnsonville, 2007 was a fantastic year for the company.
“Across almost every category of sausage, both the Johnsonville brand and our customers’private-label brands, experienced fantastic growth,” he says. “This growth was achieved by better management of the categories and some smart line extensions that reflect changing consumer preferences. As a company, we have continued to increase our investment in consumer marketing to grow the relevance of the sausage category and build the Johnsonville brand.”

Ladwig sees bolder flavors and more convenient forms in Johsonville’s future. The company will also continue to evolve its product lines to reflect changes in consumer preferences especially around health and convince, Wolf adds.

“In fact, our new All Natural Ground Sausage has been a huge success because it keys on both the nutrition and health benefits consumers are looking for from Johnsonville,” he says.

New opportunities will be based on consumer trends of convenience and “flavoring-up,” says Ladwig. “Consumers are looking for more flavorful sausage varieties andconvenience to reduce meal prep.”

Nancy Cowen, director of marketing for food products for Bob Evans Farms Inc., Columbus, Ohio, says the industry continues to be very solid, with pre-cooked sausage exhibiting strong growth, up 4.2 percent (total U.S.) according to Nielsen data for the 52-weeks ending December 15, 2007. On a national basis, however, fresh breakfast sausage is down slightly — 1.1 percent, she explains.

In terms of new product innovation for 2008, Cowen also underscores the importance of innovation in terms of health, value and convenience.

“At Bob Evans, we will continue to evaluate opportunities for value-added, convenience-oriented products in the new year,” says Cowen. “We will also continue to optimize our facilities and efficiencies with regard to production.”

In the end, by its very nature, a brand (or company) identity’s effectiveness is rooted in its longevity. And of course, the product has to taste good, dang good, and perform to customers’ expectations. The charts on the following pages offer a comprehensive look at the sausage category, both from a retail and foodservice perspective — where does your brand or company rank?

Sausage news 'clips'

— Butterball LLC, Mount Olive, N.C., has received the ChefsBest Award for Best Taste for its smoked turkey sausage in its product line category, from the independent, professional chefs at ChefsBest. Butterball Smoked Turkey Sausage was evaluated blind in a competitive judging among leading brands and was rated highest in overall quality. To receive the award, a brand must have a statistically significant quality difference from its competitors. The chefs cited Butterball’s tenderness and juiciness as contributing to its overall winning quality and commented on the sausages sweet, smoky flavor and complex spice blend with notes of onion, clove, garlic, salt and pepper.

“The ChefsBest Award reinforces our promise to provide high-quality, great-tasting products,” says Keith Shoemaker, chief executive officer for Butterball. “This emphasizes to consumers that they have made the best buying decision for their families by choosing our products.”

— On the foodservice side of things, VICORP Restaurants Inc., owner of Village Inn restaurants, has developed a new partnership with Boulder Sausage of Colorado as part of the restaurant company’s Legendary Restaurants and Recipes promotion. Village Inn began last month offering a Boulder Sausage Platter — sandwich and skillet dishes featuring family sausage recipes dating back four generations to Germany.

“At Village Inn, we have traveled the nation in search of the country’s tastiest recipes to bring our guests award-winning dishes closer to home,” says Ken Keymer, chief executive of VICORP. “We are extremely excited to partner with Boulder Sausage and hope the association with unique high-quality, award-winning recipes will create a powerful new reason for guests to try our food.”