Meal trends offer new product opportunities

by Bryan Salvage
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CHICAGO – When it comes to new food product introductions, meat and meals dominate global offerings, said Lynn Dornblaser, director CPG Trends, Mintel International, during the American Meat Institute International Meat, Poultry & Seafood Industry Convention and Exposition being held at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

Although new product introductions from 2007 to 2010 in the US dropped in all food and drink categories, there were strong increases in fish, pizza and meal kits, perhaps indicating an increased focus in health (fish products) and convenience, Dornblaser said. “Consumers are looking for safety, value and convenience,” she added.

Dornblaser cited several consumer packaged goods trends she has witnessed. One is several key ingredients — sodium, sugar and high fructose corn syrup — have been experiencing covert reductions in product formulations. “Over time, we may see some shifts from covert to overt, depending on the ingredient, depending on the region of the world,” she said.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers said they limit use of packaged foods because of the high sodium content, but 45 percent said that low-sodium foods don’t taste as good compared to foods without sodium modifications. A growing number of packaged meats make low-sodium claims. While not all of such products show strong sales, the success of some, such as Sara Lee’s Lower Sodium Honey Roasted Turkey Breast in the US, may indicate more market potential, Dornblaser said.

CPG products continue to bring into the home meals that used to require a specialist to prepare. This results in economic meal solutions across all categories that include meat and poultry. Such products help consumers prepare meals at home that mimic restaurant offerings — Jennie-O Turkey Store’s Nacho Platter and Hungry-Man Pub Favorites from Pinnacle Foods are two examples of such products.

Any product that simplifies the dinner occasion and does so at a lower cost is an opportunity for meat and poultry companies, according to Dornblaser. Such products include Pilgrim’s Pride Big Value Chicken Nuggets; Cole’s Quality Foods’ That’s Dinner! Meal kit for 4, USA, in varieties such as Beef Ravioli and Cheese Tortellini; and Paula Deen’s Catfish Strips, positioned as convenient and economical, she said.

Flavor experimentation is important. Companies should allow consumers ways to try new types of protein or those with unusual flavors. Examples include Manchester Farms’ Premium Pre-seasoned Quail, Safeway’s Safeway Select Mandarin Orange Chicken frozen meal and Citterio’s Culatello cured, sliced pork.

Simple meals and products that take steps out of making dinner, are an opportunity for meat and poultry processors. Time-saving products include Target’s Archer Farms Homestyle Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes, Rupari Foods’ Butcher’s Prime Shredded Beef in BBQ Sauce and Barber Foods’ Premium Homestyle Entrées.

“More and more, CPG products cannot be easily slotted into one category or another, causing confusion — and opportunity,” Dornblaser said.

The trend of blending meal and snack occasions also presents opportunities for meat and poultry companies to create interest and familiarity with flavors from other categories in addition to exploring product forms that can be consumed as a meal or snack, she said. Hannaford Bros.’ Taste of Inspirations Applewood Smoked Bacon & Cheddar Mini Burgers is one example of such a product.

Creating demand for more breakfast options containing protein is another strategy the food industry can use to attract consumers.

“Breakfast sandwiches are a relatively small part of the market, in terms of introductions, sales and consumer interest,” Dornblaser pointed out. “However, they can be positioned to offer that weekend experience during the week.” Heinz’s Weight Watchers Smart Ones Morning Express breakfast sandwich with 210 calories and McCambridge Fine Foods’ Breakfast Sandwich are two examples of products that offer meat-based protein for the breakfast day part.

Products that fill people up and keep them full while still delivering excellent taste will continue to resonate with consumers, Dornblaser predicted. Nestle’s Lean Cuisine Flatbread Melts with 23g of protein is positioned as a fulfilling meal. And Marks & Spencer’s Simply Fuller Longer paella salad with chicken, which is sold in the UK, features a claim of “helping to keep hunger pangs under control.”

Product choices now allow consumers to have a more upscale experience in the home but with little prep, making them perfect for the novice cook. Trader Joe’s Trader Jacques Ham & Cheese Croissant Sandwiches, General Mills’ Good Earth Restaurant Favorites Tuscan Chicken with Penne Pasta and Unilever’s P.F. Chang’s Home Menu meals are examples of such products.
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