SPECIAL REPORT: New products revitalize 'mature' categories, markets

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, MO. – Leading marketers point out that individual marketing/sales campaigns stimulate market growth, but in most cases such campaigns target — and achieve — only short-term results. On the other hand, a successful new product can lead to longer-term success.

MEATPOULTRY.com recently contacted several industry insiders to get their input on this topic and here’s what they had to say.

Tyson Foods is beginning to ship packages of its individually-frozen Split Cornish Game hens, Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told MEATPOULTRY.com. "Our objective in developing individually-frozen [i.f.] Split Cornish is to invigorate the category by creating incremental consumer demand and usage occasions, particularly during the summer grilling months, which have historically been off-peak consumption periods," he added. "Historically, Cornish sales peak around the holiday season, with whole Cornish often prepared as a special occasion dinner at home."

Preliminary feedback and distribution results have been very positive, he said. "The concept also scored an encouraging 86% for the top two [definitely/probably would buy] scores in a home placement study conducted when the concept was being developed," he added.

The product uses sized Cornish WOG's that are split, marinated up to 15% with an all-natural chicken broth marination, individually-frozen and packed in 3 and 5 lb. bags.

The product delivers convenience, which consumers demand in today's fast paced environment, Mr. Mickelson said. The split Cornish can be cooked from frozen, significantly cutting the cook time compared to whole Cornish product. In addition, it’s more user friendly for the grill, since it doesn't require the same preparation methods [rotisserie, spanik roasters, etc.] as whole Cornish.

"We also understand through research that 31% of consumers are already splitting whole Cornish on their own," Mr. Mickelson said. "Offering an i.f. split Cornish to our line of i.f. chicken products is consistent with our philosophy to continuously seek ways to add unique, innovative products, which add more value to our product lines."

The Beef Checkoff Program continues to fund new programs that meet the demands of evolving markets and changes in consumer shopping habits, said Randy Irion, director of channel marketing for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which contracts to manage retail programs for the beef checkoff.

"One example of a relatively-new product that has breathed new life into the Chuck category is the Flat Iron Steak, which is part of the Beef Value Cuts line," Mr. Irion said. "The Flat Iron Steak has experienced tremendous growth since its launch. In 2008, more than 13 million lbs. of the Flat Iron were sold, which translates to more than $68 million in dollar sales. This is tremendous growth for a single cut that has only been in the market for about five years."

Sales of Beef Value Cuts continue to increase, due in large part to highly-visible, case-ready programs implemented by large retailers, including Kroger and Delhaize. These programs have made the Flat Iron Steak more accessible at retail, Mr. Irion said.

Another good example of a new and innovative program is The Kroger Company’s Sealed for Freshness program. "In 2008, Kroger launched a line of thin-sliced beef products incorporating packaging technology to address several key areas that impact retailers – shrink, in-stock position, margin and sales," Mr. Irion said. "Kroger printed the bottom web of the Darfresh packaging with consumer information to convey the value of freshness that vacuum-packaging brings to the product and also developed point-of-sale signage to help educate consumers and communicate the value and benefits of the new program.

"Consumers have not only accepted the program, but sales have exceeded company projections," he added. "The Kroger Company was a recipient of the 2008 Retail Beef Backer Innovator Award, a program funded by the beef checkoff, for their ‘Sealed for Freshness’ program."

Many new turkey products in the market today were created in response to consumer demand for quick-and-easy plus healthier products, said Sherrie Rosenblatt, vice president of marketing and communications, National Turkey Federation.

"The turkey industry has responded by transforming the traditional bird with some flavorful and easy new products," she added. "Ground turkey can now be found in turkey burgers, turkey meatballs and breakfast sausage links."

In sausage alone there have been numerous flavor enhancements, such as turkey beer bratwurst, turkey cheddar bratwurst, kielbasa and turkey Italian [sweet or hot flavors], which all offer ease of cooking and grilling plus healthier sausage entrées and appetizers, she added.

And the new, easy-to-prepare whole turkey, turkey breast and split-turkey breasts offered in cooking bags have transformed the traditional bird, Ms. Rosenblatt added. "The turkey is placed directly in the oven from either the freezer or the refrigerator and this has certainly transformed the old concept of washing and preparing a whole bird or even a turkey breast," she continued. "The split-turkey breast market is for smaller families or even single consumers who want to enjoy turkey breast with little fuss."

Turkey breast cuts, such as flavored marinated turkey tenderloins, are great products offering easy meal preparation with a low-fat protein, she added. There are several trendy flavors and the roast/grill time allows for quick meal preparation time. Meanwhile, fully-cooked turkey strips make it simple to add a healthy protein to salads, soups and ethnic entrée recipes.

"Many grocery delis now offer roasted turkey breast as a take-home entrée," she said. "This product offers the advantages of no cooking plus healthy fare."

Back in the 1950s, rotisserie chicken faded away. It took Boston Chicken becoming Boston Market to spur the supermarkets and club stores into action, said Bill Roenigk, senior vice president and chief economist, National Chicken Council. "With marination, in-your-face cooking equipment and packaging, rotisserie chicken rose from the ashes," he added.

Another example of reviving a once-stagnant category is chilled, fried chicken, which is now stocked in every supermarket/club store prepared foods department. "Marketers had to address the warmed-over taste to make fried chicken re-appear in the chilled form," Mr. Roenigk said. "The only reason a chicken product market becomes mature is because we let it do so."

The pork tenderloin is another excellent example of a category that has been revitalized. "Not too many years back, the pork tenderloin was only known as the leanest cut of pork," said Jarrod Sutton, director of retail marketing, National Pork Board. "Today, it’s known as the leanest and the best-tasting [product] due to the countless flavors suppliers are offering consumers, such as Teriyaki, Lemon Garlic and Sundried Tomato — and the list goes on and on. The pork tenderloin went from 1 sku in the meatcase to more than a dozen skus in some cases."

Forward-thinking marketers offered some final advice for meat and poultry processors regarding their future new-product strategies: give the consumer what he or she wants because if you don’t, your competition—both domestic and foreign – will.

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