Hitting the Links

By Lynn Petrak
Special Projects Editor
Dinner sausage sales post gains for the year as consumers seek comfort foods with a convenient, flavorful twist.
There is some interesting “stuff,” to borrow an industry term, going on in the sausage category. For a venerable and basic food product, the dinner sausage has not only remained a staple on consumers’ menus, it is expanding in sales and product offerings.
Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago, IL, tracks total dinner sausage sales at just over $1.5 billion for the past 12 months, a 5-percent increase over last year. Karen Boillot, director of retail marketing for the National Pork Board, Des Moines, IA, has seen supermarket sausage promotions rise notably in recent months. “I was surprised by how much more space sausage ads have gotten,” she says, reporting that share of sausage features rose by 14.3 percent.
As with the breakfast sausage category, the dinner sausage arena has been impacted by the development of fully cooked products. Some of Johnsonville’s growth may be tied to the company’s recent introduction of heat-and-serve bratwurst and Italian sausages sold in resealable laminated pouches, which won a “Consumers Choice Pork Awards” from the Pork Board.
The John Morrell division of Smithfield, VA-based Smithfield Foods also is in hot pursuit of that side of the business, recently offering new fully cooked bratwurst.
Balancing consumer demand for convenience and taste, sausage makers also continue to mix up some innovative flavors, a trend that started during the 1990s. Recently, flavors trend more toward ethnic fare, such as Cubana-Style Smoked Chicken Sausage from Los Angeles-based Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom, and Saucisse de Cordon Bleu Smoked Chicken with Canadian Style Bacon and Swiss Cheese from Milwaukee, WI based Fred Usinger Inc., among others.
Still, even as exotic ingredients are added to sausage blends, there is a concurrent trend toward traditional, comfort-food varieties. Earlier this year, Phoenix, AZ-based Bar-S Foods introduced a new line of Old World Premium Smoked Sausages. “One of our focuses has been to offer home-meal-solutions that provide variety and convenience to our time constrained consumers. We also understand the importance of appealing to specific ethnic groups, genders, and ages,” says Bob Uhl, president.
As different varieties emerge (and in some cases re-emerge), sausages are also made with different protein types. Gourmet sausage makers tout everything from duck sausage to seafood sausage, not to mention vegetarian varieties. Dutch Valley Veal, South Holland, IL, and Roma Packing Co, Chicago, IL, recently scored positive reactions from their retailer customers with a new jointly developed veal sausage line, which includes mild and spicy Italian sausage, bratwurst and sun-dried tomato sausage. “It’s going over very well. There are a lot of people looking for something different,” says Joe Smith, sales director of Dutch Valley sausages, which arrive at a meat department frozen for thawing in the case. “Plus, it has a great shelf life, it’s eye appealing, and it helps expand the veal part of the counter.”