KANSAS CITY, MO. – Marinated meats have been evolving over the past few years, as consumers have been more apt to buy seasoned meats and those with tasty flavor profiles. 

In fact, according to the latest IRI Unify Total US Food, Marinated Category & Brands report, the category increased from a $239 million category in 2017 to more than $275 million today. 

Global flavors are becoming more mainstream in the seasoned meat category as the industry has seen an increase in authentic flavor profiles from around the world.  

“We know there’s an ongoing desire by consumers to explore bold flavors and culinary styles, especially among millennials and their families,” said Dana Ehrlich, co-founder and chief executive officer of Verde Farms, based in Woburn, Mass. “We also know that they’re looking for authentic, simple ingredients.” 

Mexican, Moroccan and Mediterranean flavors, which have been on the rise in recent years, are seeing an increased demand as consumers are looking to replicate the experiences they are having at restaurants in their own homes. They are looking for meat manufacturers to deliver these familiar taste profiles while remaining both authentic and transparent. 

Sandra Sage, vice president of market solutions for Clemens Food Group, based in Hatfield, Pa., noted traditional flavors like garlic, onion, chili, honey, Italian seasoned, salt & pepper and smoky notes are leading in flavor trends.  

“These classic flavor profiles are more important than ever as consumers are looking for them to meet their daily cooking needs and for options that are family friendly,” she said. “In addition, as consumers are demanding new flavor profiles, they are also looking for more premium formats, including natural and organic offerings as well as more education on cooking methods.”  

Bob Ambrose, owner of West Haven, Conn.-based specialty meat supplier Bella Bella Gourmet Foods, noted that prior to March, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and Southeast Asian flavored meats had gained popularity, and he expects demand of these flavors will continue to grow after things settle down with COVID-19. 

“Middle Eastern started gaining popularity a few years ago when well-known chefs started opening restaurants that reflect flavors from countries that they have family ties to,” he said. “Latin American, and Southeast Asian as well.” 

Joe Hynes, a food consultant with Atlanta-based Joe Hynes Consulting Company, said a trending development is the incorporation of international flavors into ready-to-cook meats, including beef, pork, chicken, sausage and ground beef. 

“An example is a barbecue saucemMarinade with Korea GochuJang sauce added to the recipe,” he said. “Also incorporating Latin flavors such as mojito lime seasoning both as a rub and also as a marinade to all of the various proteins is growing.” 

Responding to trends 

Clemens Food Group’s Hatfield brand has worked diligently over the last three years to elevate its marinated platform to better solve consumer needs. 

“It began in 2016, when we took all of our marinated meats to a ‘dry rub’ format,” Sage explained. “Doing away with liquid marination improved the appearance and acceptability of the product with our consumers as it began to look more like a product they had seasoned at home in their own kitchens.” 

Two years later, the company transitioned its entire portfolio of Hatfield-brand marinated tenderloins, loin filets and chops to be able to claim “all-natural” ingredients, and it also “right sized” the products so that they would be able to work for a daily family eating occasion.   

“In addition, our flavor profiles continue to evolve as new trends arise,” Sage said. “We currently have flavors such as our Tuscan Herb Tenderloin and Roast and our Garlic Parmesan Loin Filet that appeal to the traditional Italian seasoned needs of consumers.” 

In May, the company launched two new innovative flavors — Chili Verde Tenderloin and Garlic Mustard Loin Filet — to appeal to those looking for more global flavors.   

Jenny Burns, director of innovation at Applegate, which offers all-natural and organic meat products, noted consumers are becoming more exposed to flavors from around the world, whether that’s through traveling, media, or dining out. As a result, the company has noticed bolder flavors and flavor profiles that represent a global regional cuisine. 

“Applegate recently launched two meatball varieties, under its new Well Carved line, that blend Applegate humanely raised meat with organic, whole vegetables, legumes, and grains,” Burns says. “These chef-crafted meatballs are the best of both worlds, using ingredients inspired by Asian and Mediterranean cuisines, that also reduce the amount of meat used by 35-40%.” 

In response to recent trends, Verde Farms continually builds on consumer interest with its ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat products.  

“They’re approachable and convenient takes on adventurous flavor profiles for easier and more novel mealtime experiences, and we develop our recipes in alignment with our commitment to transparent, pantry-simple ingredients and superior, sustainable sourcing,” Ehrlich said. 

Last year the company launched three 100% grass-fed, all-beef uncured dinner sausage varieties with savory flavors. Gathering inspiration from the American southwest, it also introduced a Hatch Green Chile and Cheddar link featuring the green pepper of New Mexico known for its balance of heat and flavor.  

“This year, we’re rolling out a new line of products called Simply Sear It! Steaks, powered by the sous vide cooking method,” Ehrlich said. “We season 100% grass-fed, organic beef in savory steakhouse rubs, vacuum-pack them, and slow-cook the meat over low heat for over an hour — leaving consumers with an amazingly flavorful, tender, and foolproof steak in under 5 minutes.” 

In addition to center-plate cuts, Verde Farms also introduced seasoned Steak Strips and Shreds for versatility in all kinds of dishes, featuring flavors like Teriyaki elevated with garlic and ginger, Barbacoa and Carne Asada, made with citrus, paprika, and spices. 

“Modern consumers value transparency and ‘real,’ uncomplicated ingredients that are easy to pronounce,” Ehrlich said. “We fill a gap in the market where legacy products with processed sauces or other additives don’t meet these expectations.” 

Sophie Mellet-Grinnell, meat expert and market specialist at Bronx, N.Y.-based Baldor Specialty Foods, said Baldor has been selling a lot of organic smoked hams and turkeys, sugar cured hams and turkeys.  

“Sliced Bayonne from France is starting to take its rightful place in the market,” she said. “Flavored sausages of all kinds: parsley and cheese, spicy Italian. Our newest line of fresh sausages from Dufour Gourmet are doing exceptionally well. Flavors like Provencal, Thai and fresh chorizo are a big hit. Customers are also ordering a lot of pates and foie gras based products.” 

Marketing measures 

As the seasoned meat category continues to grow, there is an increased opportunity for retailers to aid consumers in simplifying the shopping experience.  

Sage suggests retailers expand sets with increased varieties of both flavor options and cuts so consumers can have more options to change up their menu and weekly dinner rotations.   

“Consumers are looking for easy meal solutions, so this opens up avenues for retailers to try and solve those needs by highlighting products, such as marinated meats, that offer these conveniences,” she said. “There are also additional ways of driving awareness of these items, through instore TV and at the gas pump TVs for participating gas reward retailers. This education could be around recipes, cooking methods or best food pairings.” 

Stores can also look to create a destination set in every store for seasoned meat items, with increased signage both instore and at shelf to help direct shoppers to these items.  

“For retailers who want to be truly innovative and think outside the proverbial retail box, this is an area of opportunity to create a store within a store,” Sage said. “Knowledgeable employees can provide direction to shoppers on how best to cook these products. This area could also house current meal deal items that would be good pairings for shoppers to get everything needed for the meal in one location.” 

 According to Ambrose, retail stores should be providing education and tastings to get the public to try new flavors.   

“Whenever we did demonstrations at markets, the store would sell out of the items we were sampling,” he said. 

Mellet-Grinnell noted websites are one of the best marketing tools available to everyone. 

“Good visuals in stores are an attraction to me,” she said. “If I see a really nice shot of a product, I tend to be more apt to try it than if I just see it in the case.” 

All Hatfield-brand meat products have labels that feature icons for various cooking methods to help consumers know how versatile the products are and how easily they can prepare their pork.  

“These icons drive consumers back to our web page where they can search by product and cooking method and see links to some of our favorite, chef-inspired recipes,” Sage said. “Our in-house corporate chef has personally crafted custom recipes for both traditional cooking methods such as grill, oven, slow cooker and skillet, to the trendy air fryer and Instant Pot to allow for that customization and personalization consumers are craving.”