KANSAS CITY, Mo. – I never met any carnivore who didn’t like sausage. As far as sausage’s growing popularity and sales go, for the most part, the proof can be quickly found in the numbers.

Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm, relays dollar sales for Refrigerated Breakfast Sausage/Ham (Total US Multi-Outlet—Supermarkets, Drugstores, Mass Market Retailers, Military Commissaries and Select Club and Dollar Retail Chains) for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 1, 2013, totaled $1,482,663,000—up 5.39 percent from the same year-earlier period); Refrigerated Dinner Sausage sales were $2,993,417,000, up 1.90 percent from the same year-earlier period; Refrigerated Frankfurters sales, however, slipped to $2,508,503,000, down 1.64 percent in sales from the same year-earlier period.

Simply put, 2013 was noteworthy year for the US sausage industry, filled with significant business moves and interesting new product launches. Smithfield Foods Inc., for example, signed a non-binding letter of intent last February to form a 50/50 joint venture with Kansas City Sausage Company LLC and its sister company, Pine Ridge Farms LLC. The deal allowed Smithfield to expand its $4 billion breakfast and dinner sausage categories. Smithfield expected the transaction to immediately boost its earnings.

"With our strong ongoing focus on building our packaged-meats business, and with 15 percent of the United States sow population, this joint venture is a logical fit for Smithfield" said C. Larry Pope, president and CEO of Smithfield. "It will provide a growth platform in two key packaged meats categories — breakfast sausage and dinner sausage — and will allow us to expand our product offerings to our customers. These categories represent over $4 billion in retail and foodservice sales annually. This is a big opportunity for Smithfield to grow in two categories that have not historically been a focus for the company.”

Last year also was very active in new, high-profile sausage introductions. Lisle, Ill.-based Eckrich announced in September it had teamed with college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit on a new smoked sausage named the Ultimate Tailgate. Herbstreit has been an Eckrich spokesman since 2008. The rope and links smoked-sausage packaging feature the name and likeness of the Emmy-winning commentator.

"Kirk has been a great ambassador for Eckrich for the past five years, and we are excited for him to endorse this new line of tailgating products within our portfolio," said Chuck Gitkin, vice president, marketing, innovation and R&D for John Morrell Food Group. Herbstreit has been a college football analyst for ESPN College Gameday and the ABC prime time game of the week. Eckrich is a part of the John Morrell Food Group, a division of Smithfield Foods Inc.

Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka — and Chicago-based Vienna Beef announced in August they had joined forces to launch a new line of dinner sausages named Ditka Sausages. Vienna Beef is producing the sausages, available as Hot Beef Polish Sausage and Chicken Sausage with Mozzarella and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Product is eight-inches long and weighs 1/3 lb. Both flavors come in a 10.66-oz. two-pack, with a suggested retail price from $4.99 to $5.99. “Ditka. Sausages. Talk about a match made in heaven,” exclaimed Timothy O’Brien, co-president of Vienna Beef. “These sausages embody Chicago,” Ditka added. “The tradition, the teams, the fans, the big appetites— Chicago deserves a monster sausage they can be proud of.”

Several new beef sausage introductions raised some eyebrows last year. Brisket Sausage joined Nolan Ryan Beef’s line-up last July, which is now available at Kroger stores throughout Texas and Louisiana. Made with 100-percent beef brisket, this new product has been a priority for the Nolan Ryan team for some time, said 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.

“We believe this is the first brisket sausage developed by a company and sold in mass retail,” a spokesman said. “We’re always looking for ways to push the boundaries of what we can provide. The more we can push those boundaries, the better we can serve delicious, high-quality food that keeps our customers coming back.”

If sausage-related news from last year is any indication, this year will be another very active year for this industry in terms of business moves and new product launches. For a more complete sausage overview, read the exclusive report on this topic in the February issue of Meat&Poultry magazine.