Stress-Free Sausage

Flavor and packaging innovations heat up the dinner sausage category.
From Polish sausage and kielbasa to smoked sausage and bratwurst, the dinner sausage segment continues to entice consumers. Chicago-based Information Resources’ most recent data place the U.S. retail dinner sausage category at $1.58 billion in sales, up 3.1 percent from the year prior. Sara Lee’s Hillshire Farm brand is the category leader with $276.5 million in sales, followed by Johnsonville’s $239.8 million, and private-label dinner sausage’s $117.6 million.
Today’s dinner sausage category is marked by processors’ efforts to satisfy time-crunched families seeking convenience in meal preparation, with both large and small players notably infusing their products with interesting flavor profiles.
As the leading supplier of kosher poultry products, Mifflintown, PA-based Empire Kosher Poultry recently introduced a line of breast meat gourmet chicken sausages in sun-dried tomato basil, mushroom garlic, and sweet apple and cinnamon varieties.
Robert Van Naarden, chief executive officer of Empire Kosher, says the products are designed to “enhance the eating experience,” adding that “Empire is pleased to provide its kosher consumers with value-added, quality products designed to meet the needs of today's busy households.”
Top 10 Dinner Sausage Brands*
  Dollar Sales ($ millions) Dollar Sales %
Change Prior Year
Dollar Share Unit Sales
Unit Sales %
Change Prior Year
1. Hillshire Farm 276.5 -11.6 17.5 93.3 -11.8
2. Johnsonville 239.8 15.0 15.1 58.3 11.7
3. Private Label 117.6 -0.3 7.4 39.4 -9.7
4. Eckrich 99.8 -1.1 6.3 34.9 -6.1
5. Bar S 27.7 5.9 1.8 7.8 2.2
6. Bryan 27.5 -10.3 1.7 9.8 -7.7
7. John Morrell 25.6 31.6 1.6 13.5 49.9
8. Aidells 23.4 15.1 1.5 4 16.2
9. Premio 23.0 16.3 1.5 6.7 11.8
10. Johnsonville Beddar with Cheddar 18.9 23.3 1.2 5.7 19.4
Total Category 1,583.0 3.1 100.0 500.7 -0.6
*Total U.S. supermarkets, drug stores, and mass merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart for the 52 weeks ending May 15, 2005.
Source: Information Resources Inc.
Meanwhile, Aidells Sausage Co., a San Leandro, CA-based firm known for creating unique sausage flavors and varieties, is offering its Cajun Style Andouille in a poultry-based mini version that is not only smaller in size, but lower in fat and calories than its pork counterpart. Aidells’ product lineup exemplifies the endless flavor possibilities in the sausage category, including such varieties as artichoke and garlic, Cuban with black bean, sun-dried tomato, habanero and green chile, chicken and apple, pesto, portobello mushroom, andouille, and roasted red pepper with corn.
Innovative offerings
Appealing to consumer desires for adventurous new flavors as well as the growing organic, all-natural market, regional sausage producer Bilinski Sausage Manufacturing Co., Cohoes, NY, has rolled out certified organic chicken sausage in sweet Italian, spinach and garlic, and apple-mango varieties.
Another fully-cooked introduction, Richardson, TX-based Owens Country Sausage, a subsidiary of Bob Evans Farms, in January added two new flavors to its line of dinner sausage – Owens Smoked Sausage with Cheese and Owens Smoked Sausage with Cheese & Jalapeno. The refrigerated and fully-cooked products are available in 14-ounce packages that were redesigned to peak consumer interest.
“Owens Smoked Sausage with Cheese is made from our special recipe with a great cheddar cheese flavor, and the jalapeno version just adds a hint of hot and spicy flavor,” observes Mike Townsley, president and chief operating officer of Owens Country Sausage. “Owens has spiced up the packaging too with a colorful new look.”
Owen parent Bob Evans has ventured into the sausage-based meal solutions sector with Bob Evans Sausage Chili with Beans. Packaged with two 12-ounce stay-fresh pouches in each box, the refrigerated sausage chili is marketed as an “anytime meal.” In addition to being microwaveable, the chili may be cooked inside its pouch in boiling water. NP