When most consumers think: “sausage”, pork sausage immediately comes to mind. Although pork may remain firmly entrenched in the pole position in the fresh and cooked sausage category, it’s certainly not the only game in town. Some of the most exciting sausage products for retail and foodservice markets today are beef-based.

“For Kiolbassa [Provision Company, San Antonio, Texas] products across our 35-state distribution footprint and at both retail and foodservice levels, our all-beef sausage is our greeting card,” says Michael Johnson, director of branding. “We use our all-beef premium product to introduce ourselves in new, emerging markets to the consumer. Generally, it is our most-differentiated offering from any competition in the area and that is why the retailers show the most interest.”

This business was founded in 1949, and the company’s original beef sausage recipe has served it well for 65 years. “Our beef sausage is typically sold in a link-style [not rope], with quality ingredients, fresh spices and is mildly flavored,” Johnson says. “Our coarse-ground, small-batch process gives us a meaty texture without being tough. Our sausage can complement any recipe or serve as a standalone source of protein.”

Kiolbassa offers various flavor profiles that build off of its all-beef sausage products. “About half of our profiles involve beef, and then after that we have flavor profiles that include pork. We always strive to find the perfect blend of spices and flavors that are just right,” he adds.

Its smoked beef sausage line-up includes Beef & Cheddar Smoked Sausage, Beef Smoked Sausage, Jalapeño and Smoked Beef Sausage, Jalapeño and Cheddar Smoked Sausage, Mesquite Smoked Beef Sausage and Natural Beef Smoked Sausage.

Consumer demand for sausage is strong. The US economy has forced many people to cook or prepare meals at home to stretch their hard-earned dollars, and consequently there are fewer people eating out at restaurants on a daily basis, Johnson says. “This has people looking for premium products that provide value and stretch their meal budget,” he adds. “For Kiolbassa, we are in the grocery area [fresh meats/deli] or market where one finds steaks. You find us there and at a fraction of the price of a ribeye. Also, people are looking for real, authentic food as a trend; fortunately, we are minimally processed and our clean label reflects that attention to quality.”

Beef sausage features points-of-difference over sausage containing other proteins, according to Johnson. “Beef is considered a high-quality, protein source,” he adds. “It is commonly recognized as the pinnacle choice in the US. People know what beef is and it is a traditional staple. On the other hand, lamb, chicken and turkey are not as traditional here, as far as sausage ingredients are concerned – while beef sausage is common and that helps us because it becomes less of a barrier to creating trial for our products, in general.”

Most often, beef sausage is considered a dinner item. “The category of smoked sausage is generally considered dinner sausage, although many restaurants that buy our product prep it for breakfast, too,” Johnson says, “using it in breakfast tacos, omelets and other cooking methods outside of the casing, so to speak.”

Pitching brisket

In July 2013, Huntsville, Texas-based Nolan Ryan Beef announced that Brisket Sausage had joined the company’s beef-sausage roster and was available at Kroger stores throughout Texas and Louisiana. Made with 100-percent beef brisket, developing this new product has been a priority for the Nolan Ryan team for some time, according to Charlie Bradbury, CEO of Nolan Ryan Beef. The rope sausage is available one 12-oz. rope per package at a suggested retail price of $3.99. Nolan Ryan Beef Brisket Sausage is also available online at www.NolanRyanBeef.com. “We believe this is the first brisket sausage developed by a company and sold in mass retail,” Bradbury said at the time of the product launch. “We’re always looking for ways to push the boundaries of what we can provide.” Nolan Ryan Beef markets Nolan Ryan Grass Fed Beef, Nolan Ryan Guaranteed Tender and Nolan Ryan Texas Beef lines, and is co-owned by Nolan Ryan, baseball Hall of Famer and Texas rancher, and his ranching partners. Other Nolan Ryan beef sausage products include Original Sausage, Hot & Spicy Sausage, Jalapeño Sausage, Cheese Sausage, Beef & Pork Sausage, Jalapeño & Cheese Beef & Pork Sausage, Hot Link and Beef Franks. The company’s Original Sausage and its new Brisket Sausage are the company’s most popular beef sausage products.

“Our sausage offers customers a product that contains no MSG, soy or gluten,” Bradbury says of the trends driving his company’s beef-sausage sales. “[These are] three very pertinent issues facing customer’s health issues. Our sausage is also a coarse-ground product compared to other national brands that emulsify the meat. The products are also locally and regionally produced, which is important to customers seeking local products.

“Our strong association with baseball, still America’s favorite pastime, has helped us associate our products with locally popular teams. Hot dogs and baseball have an especially close relationship,” Bradbury adds.

Beef sausage has the perception among many customers of being a leaner product compared to other proteins, but it can still keep a great flavor without added ingredients, he adds. “Customers also have a perception that beef sausage is a higher-quality item compared to other sausages out in the market,” Bradbury says.

Bradbury adds that according to the Center of Science for Public Interest, “sausages and hot dogs use the same leftover meats also found in ground beef. First, meat trimmings are removed from the bones using high pressure or other advanced techniques. Because of concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, for beef sausages the process has been refined to ensure that no bones are included. For poultry, chicken and turkey bones can be pulverized or ground as part of the process, and the resulting batter or paste is called ‘mechanically separated.’ In fact, poultry sausages can be made entirely of this paste, as long as the product label says ‘mechanically separated chicken or turkey’.”

Bradbury says the new product was offered to address demand from retailers wanting a new type of sausage. “Our Brisket Sausage offers customers 100-percent brisket without any other protein added,” he adds. “Customers can definitely taste the difference in flavor and quality.”

Ditka Sausages

For consumers searching for other new, bold beef-sausage products, they need look no further than The Windy City. Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and Chicago-based Vienna Beef announced in August 2013 they had teamed up to offer a new line of dinner sausages named Ditka Sausages. Vienna Beef produces the sausages, which includes Hot Beef Polish Sausage. Product is eight-inches long and weighs in at one-third lb. Product is sold in a 10.66-oz. two-pack, with a suggested retail price ranging from $4.99 to $5.99. A former player and coach of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, Ditka led the 1985 team to victory in Super Bowl XX. He is currently a football analyst for ESPN sports network. “These sausages embody Chicago,” Ditka said during the launch. “The tradition, the teams, the fans, the big appetites – Chicago deserves a monster sausage they can be proud of.” Product is available at numerous retail outlets and available for foodservice in 5-lb. cases containing 15 sausages each. Ditka Sausages are also available online at www.ViennaBeef.com.

In March 2013, Hillshire Farm also introduced a new line of pre-seasoned, pre-cooked Angus beef smoked sausage products. Hillshire Farm Angus Beef Smoked Sausage is available in three flavors – Smoked Beef, Polska Kielbasa and Italian Style. Products are available in the refrigerated meat section at supermarkets nationwide for the suggested retail price of $4.99.?

The future

Expect more beef sausage to enter the retail and foodservice markets during 2014. Innovative beef-sausage products that can be found in the market include Monticello, Mo.-based US Wellness Meats’ uncooked Italian Beef Sausage and Polish Kielbasa All Beef Sausage made from 100 percent grass-fed beef. Other beef sausage varieties from Johnsonville Sausage LLC include Beef Brats, Deli Bites Beef Summer Sausage Snack and Beef Hot Links, just to mention a few.

Nolan Ryan Beef’s Bradbury expects beef-sausage sales will consistently grow in the coming years. “Households these days are looking for quick and simple meals to feed their families. If we can offer them items to achieve those goals and products that meet their requirements, then we will be successful,” Bradbury says.

As competition for marketshare in the sausage segment heats up, beef sausage will likely be a mainstay. “The versatility of beef sausage is the ultimate factor that suggests growth can be expected in the future. It can be found within multiple price points, levels of fat content and in any type of meal. These are often convenience products targeted to an overworked population, as well as to younger consumers who lack cooking skills,” Bradbury concludes.