Taste that sizzles

The market for innovative sausage blends continues to expand.

By Kathie Canning, Product Development Editor


A  centuries-old art, sausage-making long has transformed pork and beef into zesty products ranging from breakfast links to kielbasa. Until fairly recently, however, sausage manufacturers rarely have ventured from traditional spice blends. Italian, maple, and the generic “hot-and-spicy” flavors are notable exceptions.
During the past few years, though, a profusion of innovative ingredient blends has made its way into this category. Driving this trend, in part, are a growing poultry sausage market, a push to reduce fat, and a U.S. consumer base hungry for the interesting “gourmet”-type flavors they’ve sampled in restaurants and during their travels.

The heat is on
By and large, the flavor profile for sausages right now is on the “robust” side, says Jerry Hall, CEO of Excalibur Seasoning Co., Pekin, IL. “Predominant flavors in the spice and herb category are jalapeño flakes and ground jalapeno, as well as chipotle, guajillo, ancho, habanero, oriental, and sweet bell peppers,” he says.
Bruce Armstrong, R&D manager for meat and poultry at Kerry Ingredients, Waukesha, WI, also sees a trend toward spicy southwest-type flavors. Sausages flavored with chipotle, chilies, carne asada, and even tequila flavors, he says, are showing up more often at the dinner table.
Of course, many products are being developed outside the hot-and-spicy arena.
Carl DeVries, part of the sales team for Momence, IL-based Van Drunen Farms, says his company is noticing “quite a bit of interest” in spinach, as well as in herbs such as basil and sun-dried tomato, for new sausage products.
Certain fruits and vegetables, including apples, carrots, and spinach, are being introduced in sausage, notes Hall, “not only for flavor, but also for aesthetics.” Basil oregano, marjoram, cumin, and rosemary are popular herbs,” he adds.
A niche market
Despite the introduction in 2003 of more than 60 sausage SKUs boasting non-traditional flavors and flavor blends (excluding meat snacks), the flavored sausage arena remains a niche market. Moreover, poultry sausage manufacturers dominate that market.
“The opportunity for difference and innovation is stronger when non-traditional protein sources are used,” contends Connie Sandusky, Ph.D., technical sales and marketing manager for Kalsec Inc., Kalamazoo, MI. “The consumer seems to want traditional offerings when eating pork sausage, but will accept trendy flavors in other species.”
It’s pretty much cheese and/or chili for the all-American hot dog, too.
Although Van Drunen Farms responded to a foodservice request that called for jalapeño flecks in frankfurters, says DeVries, the frankfurter sector remains conservative in this area. Children — who consume a good percentage of our nation’s hot dogs — “just don’t like to have too much of a change from the norm,” he stresses.
Many of us do want products with less fat, and chicken and turkey sausages certainly fit the bill. Moreover, they provide a wonderful canvas for some of the more innovative herb, spice, vegetable, and fruit blends.
Dave Canarelli, a managing partner of Casual Gourmet Foods, a Clearwater, FL-based manufacturer of chicken and turkey sausages and other poultry products, believes his company’s offerings meet two distinct market needs. “I see our products as those that appeal to someone who is looking for a little bit more than the traditional flavor profile — someone who’s looking for more of the gourmet profile —but who would like it to be a healthy, natural-type product as well.”
“Turkey and chicken products … can be produced inexpensively and with great flavor,” says Hall. “I firmly believe the trend will
continue for high-profile flavors, as well as exotic spicing and product names.”
“Poultry products give spicy flavors more impact because of the reduced fat,” says Armstrong. “Fruit inclusions also work very well.”
Chicken’s mild flavor means it will work well with delicate herb blends and “sweet” vegetables as well. In fact, Canarelli says one of Casual Gourmet’s top-selling chicken sausage flavor offering is the red bell pepper and basil combination.
Two of the most frequently occurring flavors in 2003’s poultry sausage introductions were roasted garlic and sun-dried tomato, both alone and paired with other ingredients. Their inclusion in sausage flavor blends reflects trends that go across the larger food industry.
And Chicago-based Penn Valley Farms took the poultry flavor concept to new heights when it introduced its Hans’ Wrap™ products. They feature Hans’ All Natural® gourmet chicken sausage in three flavor combinations — sun-dried tomato and fresh basil, spicy fresh cilantro and roasted garlic, and roasted artichoke and calamata olive — swathed in wheat-flour-based wraps boasting complementary flavors. The products are designed to provide a healthful gourmet eating experience.
Industry experts expect the flavored sausage explosion to continue, but within a niche market, during the next few years.
“Traditional flavors will always drive the large-volume production,” contends Armstrong. “New flavors will have niche appeal or ‘flavor-of-the-month’ appeal. It will always be difficult for new flavors to become mainstream.”
DeVries believes the traditional sausage folks — the larger companies — might break into the market with a topical flavor treatment. The thinking, he says, “is ‘it’s not going to be in my product.’ But I see a trend going — maybe a year from now some of the big guys will look at it,” he says.
Many of the larger companies are not really in a position now to offer the specialty products — the more innovative flavor blends, stresses Canarelli. “What they’re really interested in doing is selling truckloads, and their plants are set up that way,” he says. “They need mainstream
flavors. So they’ll wait until specialty boutique-type carriage-trade manufacturers and marketers such as ourselves build it to a sizeable business before they start to invest themselves.”

Getting it right
Many variables play a role in the creation of great-tasting flavored sausage blends. The right ingredients, of course, are vital.
Van Drunen Farms offers a wide range of vegetables, fruits, and culinary herbs and spices for flavored sausage applications. Depending on the desired ingredient, a processor can select from a number of forms, including individually quick-frozen (IQF)/roasted IQF, freeze-dried, air-dried, drum-dried, sun-dried, and infused.
“The frozen [products] give you the best flavor profile and the best flavor impact,” says DeVries. For processors who do not want to work with frozen, he adds, the air-dried products pack a bigger flavor punch than the dehydrated forms.
Van Drunen also has “done quite a bit of work” to be able to offer products with very low microbial levels, says Irv Dorn, also a member of the sales team. “That really helps to increase the shelf life of a product,” he stresses.
Because lower-fat products such as poultry sausage and reduced-fat pork and beef products lack the natural flavor of their full-fat cousins, adjustments must be made or the products will fail.
“A good example is the McDonald’s McLean burger,” notes
Excalibur Seasoning’s Hall. “This product tasted like cardboard and had no mouthfeel.”
Hall, who has written four books about sausage-making, says hydrolyzates make “great flavor profilers” for poultry sausages. Excalibur Seasoning also offers numerous seasoning blends for sausage and prides itself on “problem-solving” when it comes to flavor development.
The low-carbohydrate push also might force sausage manufacturers to rethink some of their flavors. Although the meat itself does not pose a carb threat, the sugars going into some of the new flavor systems do.
“The low-carb push has turned into an explosion,” notes Kerry Ingredients’ Armstrong. The company has handled “a number of requests” for low-carb flavors that call for alternatives to traditional sweeteners. The resulting reduced-carb sausages retain the proper flavor, he adds.
“This craze favors the inclusion of oleoresins for flavors,” says Kalsec’s Sandusky, “because carriers such as dextrose or maltodextrin are not needed for delivery.”
Kalsec, together with its wholly owned subsidiary Southwest Spice, provides seasonings, spices, and extracts for sausage applications.

Looking ahead
During the next year and beyond, expect the high-spice trend to continue in the flavored sausage arena, but also look for interesting new flavor combinations.
“We will see more Asian notes,” predicts Armstrong. “This includes ginger, soy sauce, and lemongrass notes.”
Spicy fruit flavors show promise for breakfast sausage, Armstrong continues. “Indian flavors also are very appealing; the problem comes in describing these flavors in language that U.S. consumers are comfortable with and understand. Many Indian flavors are built on the creamy acid note of yogurt, which accentuates the spicy flavors.”

Ingredient suppliers in this article include: