Incorporating fruit or vegetables into red meat and poultry products is not a new idea. Pickle and pimento loaf and olive loaf lunchmeats have been around for decades. But new variations on this old idea, such as Koch’s Turkey Farm Cranberry Turkey Burgers, Aidells Spicy Mango with Jalapeño Smoked Chicken and Turkey Sausage and Cher-Make Pepper Jack Bratwurst with jalapeño peppers and pepper jack cheese, keep flooding the new-product pipeline.

Such ingredients can enhance product eye appeal by adding color while improving flavor and reducing fat content and in some cases, reduce raw material costs. Steve Moore, a consultant for the beef checkoff program, says the use of fruits and vegetables as ingredients in beef products is becoming more common for two reasons.

“Consumers really like the ‘artisan’ look of vegetables that are used internally in a tied or rolled roast, [usually small dehydrated versions] and externally for the visual effect, and of course it helps with some bold flavors to give smaller portions a larger impact and mitigates some calories also,” Moore says. “I’m mainly seeing the veggie rubs or visual inclusions.”

Various new and upscale types of meatloaf and meatballs are also starting to show-up with interesting combinations, Moore continues. “Stuffed product, which is really ‘retro’ similar to the old pocket steak/chop and/or pinwheel where some veggies are sprinkled on a flattened steak then tightly rolled and tied and then sliced for a very nice meat case presentation are also being seen],” he says.

Fruit has been on the upturn for quite a while, Moore adds. “It does two things,” he says. “In gourmet sausages and burgers, it can add flavor and allow sugars to be minimized or taken out of a formula because the natural sweetness in most fruits will give the same effect to softening the saltiness. And many fruits give some nice juicy attributes that can help keep a lower-fat sausage or burger more like the mouth-feel of a higher-fat version, and the fl avor of fruit seems to complement the savory of meat. More fruit also is being incorporated into glazes that keep the product moist during cooking and holding.”

Fruit and vegetable ingredients in pork products at the retail meat case are primarily in marinated products, says Jarrod Sutton, assistant vice president of channel marketing for the National Pork Board. “While the marinated category has slowed its growth considerably the last few years, it still holds a prominent place in the meat case, specifically marinated pork tenderloins,” he adds. In a chart featuring sales data from FreshLook Marketing for marinated pork products, Sutton points out the dominant flavors are teriyaki and lemon.

“As for foodservice...it is common for operators to include fruits and vegetables as accompaniments to meat entrée dishes,” Sutton says. “We are fortunate pork offers such an amazing flavor profile to complement countless cuisines, which obviously enables culinary creative types to express their inspiration with few limitations.”

Some clients of The Turover Straus Group Inc. have used fruits and vegetables as accompaniments to meat and poultry, but not “in” meat, says Alan Turover, copresident of the company, which is one of the leading food innovation concepting and prototyping firms in the US.

“We have developed fruit salsas, fig and other types of balsamic glazes, sauces containing fruits and vegetables, fruit flavored glazes that are added to or placed on top of meats and poultry and several fruit and vegetable products that are cooked with, as opposed to just being a side dish to, meat and poultry,” he says.

“These fruit and vegetable products are added for several reasons – sometimes to add color to the meat, sometimes to add flavor, to reduce overall fat content, or sometimes to reduce raw material costs,” he adds.

Enhancing turkey
Many value-added turkey products include traces of fruit and vegetables for flavor, says Norma Farrell the National Turkey Federation’s culinary consultant. “Marinades and demi-glaces frequently incorporate fruits and/or vegetables with tenderloin products,” she adds.

Some ground turkey products include soy to help retain moisture in meatballs and burgers. Other vegetables are also added to these ground products to provide added flavor. Some brands of turkey meatballs add vegetables (including dehydrated and powdered forms). Turkey sausage products include both soy and vegetable ingredients.

Both the enhancements to ground turkey products and the marinated turkey tenderloins are perfect examples of the industry responding to consumer demands for quick-and-easy dinners, Farrell says.

“With the additional flavors and ready-to-cook enhancements, dinner can be prepared much quicker,” she adds. “The same ease of preparation and extra flavor enhancements are equally important to the foodservice industry as all operations try to control both food and labor expenses”.

Adding value
During the past year, many meat and poultry products entered both foodservice and retail markets featuring vegetable or fruit ingredients. In January, Miami-based Burger King Corp. launched its new Jalapeño & Cheddar BK Stuffed Steakhouse burger in the US. This premium sandwich includes bits of jalapeño peppers and Cheddar cheese inside the flame-broiled burger that’s topped off with poblano sauce, tomatoes and lettuce, all served on a bun. The burger is available for a limited time at participating Burger King restaurants nationwide. In late February, this product also entered the Canadian market.

“Our guests have expressed their love for our quality burgers, and we know that they enjoy the bold combination of spicy and cheesy in a big way,” said Jonathan Muhtar, BK’s vice president of global product marketing and innovation. “With our first ever stuffed sandwich, we’re giving our guests what they want – juicy, 100-percent beef infused with jalapeños and Cheddar for an experience you can see and taste in every bite.”

Pushing poultry’s profile
Tamaqua, Pa.-based Koch’s Turkey Farm launched its first entrée in the turkey burger marketplace with Cranberry Turkey Burgers in March 2010. Cranberries complement the strengthening healthful alternative movement. Made with all-natural turkey, the product contains no artifi cial ingredients. The burgers contain a minimal amount of fat and go from the skillet to the plate in about fi ve minutes, the company says.

“Our new burgers are truly unique; they combine the great taste of cranberries with our delicious turkey,” says Duane Koch, president of Koch’s. “With these new burgers, families can now continue to eat great-tasting burgers without the worry of having too much red meat in their diet.”

Chef Bruce Aidells of Aidells Sausage Co., San Leandro, Calif., prides himself on innovation when it comes to incorporating fruit and vegetables in his artisan chicken sausage. As stated on his website, Chicken Apple was his first chicken sausage introduced in the early 1980s and it remains a bestseller. He crafts sausage using exceptional ingredients, such as sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, mangoes and chunks of humanely raised poultry, the website states.

Aidells’ fully cooked retail products featuring fruit or vegetables include Mango Smoked Chicken Sausage, Fully Cooked Pineapple & Bacon Smoked Chicken Sausage, Spicy Mango with Jalapeño Smoked Chicken and Turkey Sausage, Spinach & Feta Smoked Chicken and Turkey Sausage just to mention a few.

Fresh restaurant and foodservice dinner sausage offerings include All Natural Mango Chicken Sausage and Organic Spinach & Feta Smoked Chicken Sausage while breakfast links include Apricot Ginger Breakfast Links (chicken and turkey). Cooked meatball offerings include Sun Dried Tomato/Parmesan Meatballs (chicken and turkey). Aidells proves there are no limits when it comes to creating innovative products.

Last year, al fresco All Natural added Chipotle Chorizo with Mango to its growing line of chicken sausage. This product line is manufactured by Kayem Foods Inc., New England’s largest meat processor.

Made from skinless chicken meat blended with chipotle peppers and mango in a smoky adobo sauce, al fresco Chipotle Chorizo was created using an authentic Mexican recipe from the region of Tierra Caliente, renowned for its chorizo. The smoky hot adobo is perfectly complemented by the hint of refreshing mango, the company says.

“We know that not only is the Hispanic community the largest and fastest-growing ethnic segment of the US population, but also that al fresco consumers are seeking out international flavors and cuisine to spice up the meals they prepare at home,” said Sarah Crowley, al fresco senior brand manager, when the product was launched this past May.

Fully cooked product can be prepared in minutes. al fresco All Natural Chicken Sausage comes in other flavors, such as Sweet Apple and Roasted Pepper & Asiago. They contain no artifi cial ingredients, have 70 percent less fat than traditional pork sausage and are gluten-free. al fresco products are sold at retail supermarkets nationwide.

Eat more chicken
As of June 2010, the new Spicy Chicken Sandwich was available at Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide. It is the first new sandwich to hit its menu boards since its Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich was introduced in 1989.

The new offering is breaded, seasoned with peppers, pressure-cooked in 100 percent refined peanut oil and served on a bun with pickles.

Considering the capital investment and marketing expenses required to introduce a totally new sandwich, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich rollout was Chick-fil-A’s largest product introduction in 20 years. The rollout required a number of kitchen equipment additions, including installing new pressure cookers and ventilation systems at most restaurants to prevent the spicy recipe from crossing over to other menu items.

Last September, Rosemead, Calif.-based Panda Express launched Kobari Beef nationwide, which was inspired by the sweet, smoky and spicy fl avors found in Korean BBQ. The new dish includes slices of tender marinated beef tossed with wok-seared mushrooms, leeks, crunchy onions, crispy red bell peppers and a new secret Kobari sauce.

In August 2010, Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell launched a new line of Mexican-restaurant-style tacos, Cantina Tacos, and all-new Carnitas shredded pork. The tacos include grilled, warm, corn tortillas; Premium fire-grilled chicken; Premium cut carne asada steak or Carnitas shredded pork; and topped off with a chopped onion and cilantro blend and a sliced lime wedge.

“Our Cantina Tacos are based upon authentic-style Mexican street tacos, which are designed using simple, fresh ingredients, that customers regard as high quality,” said David Ovens, chief marketing offi cer, Taco Bell Corp., Irvine, Calif.

Fruity wings
Early last year, Exeter, NH-based Margaritaville Foods launched its newest addition to its portfolio of islandinspired food and beverage products, Margaritaville chicken wings. The new line features four flavors of fully cooked, frozen and easy-to- prepare chicken wings – Island Buffalo, Mango Chutney, Orange Peel and Caribbean BBQ. Each variety is sold in a 28-oz. bag and includes a sauce packet with fl vors and spices inspired by Caribbean cuisine.

Margaritaville chicken wings are sold frozen at retailers including: Safeway, Genuardi’s, Von’s, Dominick’s, Randall’s, and others. Margaritaville Foods is a marketer of restaurant-quality food products for retail consumers.

The brand draws its inspiration from entertainment icon, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Restaurant chain and feature unique island-inspired recipes. Utilizing fruit or vegetable ingredients in new products will likely continue growing. “Such enhancements will only continue as the market place continues to expand to include both ease of preparation products and a wide variety of flavors and ethnic cuisines,” NTF’s Farrell says.