Time and new technology will help determine if battered and breaded meat and poultry can adapt to today’s health-conscious market.
These times of healthy eating and low-carb diets have not been kind to the battered-and breaded-meat segment. With an increasing number of consumers turning their backs on anything fried or with added carbs, this market, many agree, is not currently at the top of its game.
Even a number of batter and breading suppliers admit that it has been tough-going in the last few years. “The rotisserie and baked trends are big, but the word ‘fried’ has such negative connotations these days,” says Ron Pottinger, chief executive officer of Blendex Custom Blending, Louisville, KY. “Twenty years ago, fifty to sixty percent of our business was in breading or batters. Now it has dropped to fifteen to twenty percent in favor of rubs, spices, and more healthy seasonings.”
Yet, many suppliers say that this segment is thriving due to newer technologies, flavorful coating combinations, and healthier product profiles.
“There was talk ten years back that growth in this segment would level off, but it continues to grow. We’ve seen very nice numbers,” says George Kelecich, director of batter and breading product development for Chicago, IL-based Newly Weds Foods.
Newer breading and batters for red meat and poultry are on the rise, relays Orest Hanas, manager of product development for McCormick & Co., Hunt Valley, MD. “Some systems are designed to have fewer carbs using specialty flour or flour alternatives. Another healthy option is formulating the system to have lower oil absorption, resulting in a lower fat content in the finished product,” he says.
The interest for coatings and coating systems has never been stronger, says Jim Anderson, technical manager for Simi Valley, CA-based BK Giulini Corp.
"These comments transcend the expected poultry applications, and we are hearing it now from the red meat processors," he adds. "We are seeing an interest in taste and functionality improvement. In other words, people seem to 'talk' nutrition, but they purchase what is appealing to their eyes and pallets. Ingredients which offer improved bind with minimal negative impact on taste and price are paramount."
Industry experts report that there are a number of changes in batter and breading systems. “Five years ago, these products had to come out of consumers’ ovens to be crispy," says Bill O’Neill, vice president of business development at Oklahoma City, OK-based Advance Brands. "Now, microwave technology is good and getting better.”
Advance Brands is a privately-owned company that is the joint venture of Advance Food Co. and Excel Specialty Products. It produces the Fast Fixin’ and Fast Fixin’ Restaurant Style lines of fully cooked breaded and unbreaded meat products. “A lot of our changes have been to existing product and updating and upgrading the breading.”
Although Pottinger says there has not been much change in technology over the last few years, today’s flavoring for battered and breaded products has been improved. “There are more complex formulations where you can achieve any taste profile that’s desired,” he says. “Years ago, if you sprinkled meat with red pepper breading, it would fall right off into the shortening vessel during frying. Now, a lot of the flavors are encapsulated, so they don’t come off during the frying process.”
Wellness is driving the marketplace, says Barb Forde, director of new product development for Griffith Laboratories. “Newer breading and batters are considered healthier alternatives, because they use more whole grain. Companies are looking at how they can give consumers the ability to make healthier food choices,” she says.
While the meat products of 10 to 15 years ago were battered and fried with little concern for food safety, she says today’s products are more likely to come in fully cooked instead of par-fried form.
“In conjunction with that, in the last two years we are seeing an increased focus on health and wellness. People are concerned with par-fried products, oils, and, most recently, trans fats. As a result, we are seeing more non par-fried products or healthier oils being used for par frying in place of partially hydrogenated fats,” she says.
The company also is focusing on formulations with healthier connotations. “We’re looking at low-carb or whole-wheat products and formulations with soy and other alternatives,” Forde says. “We also are seeing no-fry applications where meat is placed directly into the oven without a pre-fry or par-fry step.”
Battered and breaded products have evolved into the products of today that have multiple textures and flavors. “Breading and batters are now more specialized with added value,” Hanas says. “For instance, they may contain textures and visuals for a homemade appearance or complete flavor systems. This last category is particularly versatile, as you can add unique twists, such as ethnic flavor profiles, to attain a Southwestern, Mediterranean, or Asian flair.”
Ted Lengwin, marketing manager at Penford Food Ingredients Co., based in Englewood, CO, says: “Ethnic cuisine and flavors, along with chef-inspired creations, have pushed the boundaries of what and how battered and breaded products are developed. Consumers’ desires for different ethnic offerings and a wide array of different substrates have inspired the industry to create new products.”
He says that crumb technology also has greatly evolved over the past decade to offer product developers many different choices when creating consumer-preferred products. “Product developers are always testing non-fried products as alternatives to traditionally fully fried products. If the products are developed using no trans fatty acids, that helps,” says Lengwin.
While in the past, processors would typically load up on the batter and breading to increase their profit margin, that’s not the case now.
“Years ago, a typical breaded patty would consist of more than fifty-percent breading. It would be double-breaded and double-battered, with not much meat. Those were the days when plants made a lot of money doing that,” says Jerry Hall founder and chief executive officer at Pekin, IL-based Excalibur Seasoning. “Now, with Americans watching their diet and carbs, you see breading cut back to between twenty and twenty-five percent.”
Paul Udtke, coatings senior R&D manager at Sun Prairie, WI-based Kerry Ingredients, agrees that today’s products offer more flavors and textures. “The trend has been towards bolder flavors and breading with a unique visual appearance,” he says.
Even though this segment is not what it was a decade ago, there are still new innovations and taste profiles being developed. For example, today’s breading systems have evolved from plain crumb to crumbs with different shapes, sizes, and functions.
“In addition, non-traditional breading sources, including almonds and dehydrated vegetables, have been incorporated into today’s products,” Lengwin says. “We have developed a new and exciting breading system using a starch that provides a crispy coating without the requirement of a breading.”
BK Giulini's line of BEKAPLUS® "BB" (batter and breading) ingredients are somewhat unique.
"Our phosphate-based ingredients are excellent products to use for better adhesion characteristics," Anderson says. "Typically, they can replace gums, proteins, starches, or all three by creating a network between the coating and substrate. The benefits are cleaner labeling, reduced allergen exposure, and can be significantly more economical to use. Some have even reported an increase in flavor potentiation."
New products also have been unveiled.
“In the last six to twelve months, we introduced cheeseburger fingers and jalapeno cheeseburgers fingers, which is a breaded cheeseburger line,” says O’Neill at Advance Brands. The company also will be rolling out a new extra-crispy battered and breaded meat line in early spring. “It will feature our same core poultry items with a crispier breading. We also have other breaded products, including beef, pork, and poultry, that will be introduced before the holiday season.”
In addition, flavors are playing a big role in this segment. “Consumers want some of the same flavors they get when they go out to eat, with different taste profiles and exotic spices,” says Pottinger at Blendex. “Flavors can come from pre-marinating the meat before battering it or by adding the flavor to the breading. We’ve seen lemon pepper as a big trend recently.”
Tom Kubica, senior director of new technology and technical service at Newly Weds Foods, says the flavor varieties are endless. “We’ve done fusion style, mixing and matching different flavor components,” he says.
McCormick & Co.’s product developers work together to formulate flavor systems for coating applications with flavors that resist flashing off during frying.
“More customers are asking for specific flavor profiles within the coating system, not just plain coating,” Hanas says. “In the past, various sauces for dipping were offered to provide flavor variations. Now those flavors are incorporated into the coatings and are further enhanced and complimented with sauces.”
Hanas says that hot-and-spicy profiles are still popular, but the new trends include chili pepper flavors, regional preferences, and various heat levels.
Kerry Ingredients has developed several new ethnic-coating blends to compliment its marinades systems, Udtke says. “Kashmiri Korma features an aromatic and mildly spicy profile that complements our Cucumber Yogurt marinade. The mild flavor profile provides an Indian-style product with a broadly acceptable appeal,” he says. The company also has introduced a Cheesy Breader System with an authentic, aged cheddar flavor profile delivered entirely by the coating system.
Forde at Griffith Laboratories agrees that flavors are playing more of a role in the breading segment. “We all want to have the same flavors available at home that we have at restaurants. These days, the trends are in Mexican and Asian flavors,” she says.
Yet, although Bob Cryar, senior vice president of sales and processing at Cagle’s, an Atlanta, GA-based meat processor, hasn’t seen a tremendous change in flavor profiles over the years, he notes, “There’s a lot of product in this category. There are many different batter and breading systems, in addition to spice combinations. We can always create a new set of spices to meet the market demand.”
Addressing the low-carb trend, Excalibur Seasoning is working on providing breading with less pick up.
"We’re also looking at different flavor profiles,” says Hall. “We recently developed coconut-flavored breading, in addition to a lemon-pepper breading. The industry will see a lot of seasoned breading because people like a lot of different flavored seasonings and this carries over into the breading sector.”
Kubica at Newly Weds Foods says another type of coated product in the low-carb category uses an encrusted system. “These products have a lighter breaded coating on only one side for an upscale look. These items are typically broiled or cooked,” he says.
Unfortunately, with batters and breading, most of the taste comes from the shortening. “Everyone wants to stay away from fried foods because of the shortening, but that gives the meat its taste," says Pottinger. "Others are trying to come up with substitutes for shortenings that are healthier. I don’t know if they’ll get a perfect frying oil or develop a healthy shortening because technology has not changed much in the last few years. Yet, scientists are still working on it.”
Up to the challenge
Aside from this, there are a number of challenges in the batter and breading segment. “Product loss has always been an issue,” says Hanas at McCormick & Co. “One way to solve this has been to formulate for better adhesion using stabilizers. This allows more of the coating to stick to the protein.”
Allergens are another recent concern in this segment. “Customers are requiring that more products be formulated without allergens. This sometimes reduces the number of common ingredients used in coating systems, such as gluten or egg-white powder. It also causes production scheduling challenges in order to ensure that products containing allergens are run consecutively, and only after non-allergen products,” Hanas says.
Even with the influx of new spices and flavors, suppliers still have to contend with their increasing cost. “Using new spices and flavors can be expensive. It’s not like years ago when the coating was salt, flour, and pepper. Now there are all kinds of starches, encapsulated flavors, products to make breading stay more crisp when in the holding cabinet, etc.,” says Pottinger.
Blendex has been working with several processors on new systems for battering and breading.
“All customers want breading that will not absorb as much shortening during frying. They want taste, a nice appearance, and a crisp, dry crunch. Consumers also are looking for that shortening taste without the fat and calories. Everyone wants to come up with a batter/breading system that you can bake,” Pottinger says.
Lengwin at Penford Food Ingredients says one of the biggest challenges is the migration of moisture from the substrate through the breading. “We have developed starch pre-dusts that help alleviate this issue by blocking the moisture from migrating to the surface of the substrate,” he says.
Another issue that has faced product developers for years is how to develop a crispy batter and breaded product that will remain crispy after microwaving, says Lengwin.
However, the biggest challenge, many agree, will be meeting nutritional guidelines in terms of trans fats, which takes effect in January 2006.
“There will be even more of an emphasis on paperwork and informing people about what’s in products,” says Wayne Stanice, general manager at Park Ridge, IL-based Sentry Seasonings. “Now we are spending more time on the labeling aspects rather than developing new products.”
Advance Brands planned to have its lines reformulated with zero trans fats by May 1 of this year, O’Neill says.
With more restaurants, including pizza chains, fast-casual concepts, and QSRs (quick- service restaurants), putting more battered and breaded poultry on their menus, Penford’s Lengwin, predicts these items will soon be on the rise in supermarkets.
“Today’s product developers have to fully understand the marketplace to successfully develop products. Healthy alternatives to current products will always be a goal to achieve,” he says.
Pottinger at Blendex predicts that more spicier and creative flavors soon will come into play. “I think we will see more flavorful items due to the many different ethnic populations in this country. This will deliver as much punch with as little shortening absorption as possible,” he says.
Labeling also is key to success with battered and breaded meats.
“We will see a comeback in this segment because people will label products to invite former customers back into the market. These are consumers that are watching their diets that still like taste of breaded product,” says Hall at Excalibur.
"The industry has been changing over time with how these meats are processed and the development of higher quality products," says Kelecich at Newly Weds Foods. "The focus with battered and breaded products is making them quicker to prepare, better in quality, and more flavorful.” NP
Ingredient suppliers participating in this feature include: