At a time when many food trends appear and disappear as quickly as the snows of late spring, some traditional meat categories not only sustain, but thrive and grow. Such is the case with breakfast and dinner sausage, which tout attributes such as convenience, better flavor plus better-for-you ingredients.

Consumers’ voracious appetite for both product types is fattening the bottom lines of many processors. For the 52 weeks ending Nov. 27, 2011, Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group reports breakfast sausage/ham category sales totaled $1,020,531,000 – up 9.24 percent from the same year-earlier period. Refrigerated dinner sausage sales for the same time period totaled $2,027,738,000 – up 8.12 percent from the same year-earlier period.

Starting the day off right
Breakfast sausage consumption is being driven primarily by consumer desires to start the day with more convenient, better-for-you breakfast options, either at home or on the go, says Reggie Moore, director of brand marketing for Sara Lee’s Jimmy Dean brand. Consumers recognize it’s important to start the day with a satisfying breakfast that will help keep them going. Many consumers are recognizing this means eating a balanced breakfast that includes protein, he adds.

“The ideal breakfast is one you can make from scratch, but there isn’t always time and consumers often feel they have to make a tradeoff between taste and convenience,” Moore says.

Jimmy Dean fully cooked breakfast sausage products include links and patties. In 2011, the brand introduced Hearty Sausage Crumbles to its fully cooked line-up, which can be added to scrambled eggs, breakfast burritos, or used as a pizza topping or added to pasta sauce.

The brand’s better-for-you line of frozen convenience products, Jimmy Dean Delights, has also experienced substantial growth and continues to drive sales. Now offered in breakfast sandwich and breakfast bowl options, Jimmy Dean Delights are available in six varieties, each featuring less than 300 calories and more than 14 grams of protein per serving.

In March, Jimmy Dean plans to add three new products to its frozen convenience breakfast product line-up – Jimmy Dean Sausage Quesadilla, Jimmy Dean Delights Turkey Sausage Quesadilla and Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Bowl. Products are microwavable and ready-to-eat in three minutes.

Jimmy Dean Sausage Quesadilla comes in a two-count package at a suggested retail price of $3.99. Representing Jimmy Dean’s first breakfast quesadilla, this handheld breakfast option is made with sausage, egg and cheese in a flour tortilla. Jimmy Dean Delights Turkey Sausage Quesadilla also comes in a two-count package at a suggested retail price of $3.99. This product features low fat and low calorie content without sacrificing taste, Moore says. Ingredients include turkey sausage, egg whites and cheese in a flour tortilla. Jimmy Dean Meat Lovers Breakfast Bowl sells at a suggested retail price of $2.99. The newest addition to the Breakfast Bowl line-up includes sausage, bacon, eggs, potatoes and cheddar cheese.

Meanwhile, a new line of premium sausage patties, featuring two healthier options – Turkey and Reduced Sodium, were launched in January by Madison, Tenn.-based Odom’s Tennessee Pride. The turkey sausages feature 60 percent less fat, while the reduced-sodium patties feature 40 percent less sodium. Neither product contains MSG.

The new line offers Mild, Maple and Spicy varieties. The patties come in an 8-count package. Products are available in the frozen meat section of grocery stores. The suggested retail price is $3.99 for the new patties.

Applegate’s new frozen Classic Pork Breakfast Sausage and Savory Turkey Breakfast Sausage launched early last year. Both are marketed as containing no antibiotics, hormones, high-sodium or fat. The new heat-and-serve sausages carry a suggested retail price of $5.99 for a package of 10. The Savory Turkey Breakfast Sausage is spicy while the Classic Pork Breakfast sausage features a traditional country flavor. Compared to other brands, Applegate Classic Pork Breakfast Sausage contains 10 percent less sodium, 30 percent more protein and 15 percent less fat link to link.

Further value-added breakfast sausage entries in the foodservice segment were particularly active. Breakfast sausage is an important category for Sara Lee Foodservice and its Jimmy Dean brand, explains Jason Katzman, vice president of category marketing with its protein and bakery foodservice division. As a category leader, Jimmy Dean brand recognition is a powerful asset for operators when it comes to trial and repeat purchase, he adds.

Jimmy Dean product innovations address market opportunities for convenience stores, commercial and non-commercial operations. “Breakfast sandwiches are a must-have for most grab-and-go breakfast consumers,” Katzman says. “Jimmy Dean Individually Wrapped Sandwiches provide operators a variety of options to capitalize on breakfast sales.”

In January, Dunkin’ Donuts reintroduced its Sausage Pancake Bites.Sweet and savory Sausage Pancake Bites of bite-sized sausage links are wrapped in a maple-flavored pancake. Product is available at a suggested retail price of $1.59 for an order of three.

Dunkin’ Donuts announced in November it was partnering with Sara Lee’s Hillshire Farm brand to launch its new Smokehouse Sausage Breakfast Sandwich.

Available for a limited time, this product featured Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage, egg and American cheese on a toasted English muffin.

In December, 7-Eleven stores launched its Maple Pancake Sausage Roller. Product is a maple-flavored pancake wrapped around a pork sausage link served off the roller grill. The product was developed by Kraft Foods and is priced at $1 each.

Dinner sausage entries
Consumers are always looking for new options to create great-tasting meals at home that are convenient and affordable, says Daryl Gormley, brand general manager with Hillshire Farm.

“Within the pre-cooked smoked sausage category, we have seen an increased desire for unique flavor profiles that can be used in various recipes,” he adds. “Consumers are seeking out products with quality ingredients to create restaurant gourmet dinners, like savory pastas and jambalayas, without the hefty price tag.”

Sausage is an important category for both the foodservice industry and the Hillshire Farm brand – one where product quality is key. “Hillshire Farm provides high-quality sausage products that are a versatile, economical protein offering for operators,” he adds. “As a major player in the category, we offer operators a product that encourages trial because of high brand awareness.”

Hillshire Farm recently launched a new line of premium, pre-cooked smoked sausage called Gourmet Creations. Product is slow-cooked and available in four gourmet flavors – Chicken Apple with Gouda Cheese; Beef & Bacon with Monterey Jack Cheese; Beef & Jalapeño with Monterey Jack Cheese, and Sweet Italian Style with Peppers and Mozzarella Cheese. There are four links to a package.

Product is made with no artificial colors, flavors or by-products; The suggested retail price is $4.99.

In May, Hillshire Farm launched two new smoked sausage products – Turkey Pepper Jack and Turkey Polska Kielbasa Smoked Sausage Links. These Hillshire Farm turkey links combine cuts of lean turkey and a blend of spices.

Turkey Pepper Jack Links contain 60 percent less fat than beef and pork smoked sausage products. Turkey Polska Kielbasa Links have 70 percent less fat than beef and pork smoked sausage. There are six links per 13.5-oz. package. The suggested retail price for both items is $3.99.

Bar-S Foods added Bar-S Beef and Turkey Skinless Smoked Sausages to its lineup in March. They are offered in a 1.5-lb., family-sized vacuum package for a suggested price of $3.99.

Looking forward, future new breakfast and dinner sausage products will highlight both convenience and a hearty, full flavor.

Although price will always be a part of the equation when choosing breakfast and dinner sausage, it won’t likely trump convenience and flavor.