KANSAS CITY, MO. – The pandemic drove home the importance of not only experimenting with new and different foods to cook, but also making them as easy as possible for consumers weighed down by all that extra time in the kitchen.

Enter flavored and seasoned meats, which check both boxes and, not surprisingly, have seen sales surge.

“We’ve seen demand for these products skyrocket in the last couple of years,” said Ryan Mills, associate director of innovation at Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods. “All signs point to continued growth in this area as consumers want convenient and flavorful meal solutions.”

According to the 2021 Power of Meat report, 68% of meat shoppers purchased value-added meat and poultry (including seasoned and marinated) “sometimes or frequently.” That’s up 31% since 2016. While the pandemic certainly played a role in that growth, Mills said, the Power of Meat says that shoppers are now preparing 4.2 home-prepared dinners featuring meat or poultry per week, an all-time high.

“The interest was there beforehand,” he said.

Over the last year, the pandemic created the opportunity for more in-house cooking and consumers were willing to try new products and flavors if the value proposition was there, Mills added. People who have experienced the convenience and value of seasoned and marinated products are now loyal to the category, and Tyson sees an opportunity to create great products that consumers purchase and purchase again.

Demand for flavored and seasoned meats is increasing as consumers have become more comfortable in the kitchen but also feel the fatigue of their same routine meals, said Jessica Pianalto, North American senior marketing manager for Cargill Protein, a division of Wayzata, Minn.-based Cargill.

“They turn to this value-added category to explore new flavors and meals, or when they’re simply seeking convenience,” Pianalto said. “Consumers are exploring new ways of cooking in their home. Whether it’s using their new grill or smoker, air frying foods, or relying on their instant multicooker, it’s not just the traditional oven or stovetop methods that are in consideration.”

Cargill Protein wants to ensure that consumer demand is being met by delivering a variety of quality value-added products that can be cooked utilizing various methods. Beef continues to have the largest share of volume.

Barbecue and beyond 

Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods continues to bring new flavored and seasoned items to the meat case to provide consumers with dinner solutions, said Megan Elliott, senior brand manager.

Hormel’s Lloyd’s Barbeque brand has partnered with two-time World Barbeque Champions Pig Beach to offer Lloyd’s Pecanwood Smoked Pulled and Hickory Hardwood Smoked Pulled Chicken with Pig Beach Mustard BBQ Sauce.

In addition, Hormel’s Sadler’s Smokehouse brand is expanding into retail in a bigger way in the coming months, Elliott said.

“We are very excited to add the authentic Texas BBQ options to our leading barbeque portfolio.”

Rounding out the roster is Hormel’s Always Tender flavored meat products, which Elliott said are a great option to help consumers save prep time and a perfect choice for a weeknight or weekend dinner.

Some of the most recent additions to Tyson’s lineup of flavored and seasoned meats are pork loin filets and tenderloins.

“They’ve dominated the category,” Mills said. “We’ve seen retailers experimenting with different cuts like boneless pork shoulder for pulled pork, pork chops, ribs, and ingredient meats like fajita strips. We see it as an opportunity to help retailers offer shoppers a unique product and help them have a great eating experience.”

Value-added pork in particular continues to grow each year as consumers want convenient meal solutions, he added. Tyson’s newest products in the category include Tyson-branded Garlic & Parmesan Seasoned Pork Loin Filets, Sweet Teriyaki Seasoned Pork Loin Filets, Sweet & Smokey BBQ Seasoned Pork Loin Filets and Steakhouse Seasoned Pork Loin Filets.

The pandemic increased consumers’ quest for authentic flavors and at-home cooking inspiration, Mills said. Since then, consumers have been more willing to try different flavors and flavor combinations in their search for the perfect combination of value, flavor, quality and convenience.

According to the 2021 Power of Meat Report, shoppers estimate they prepared 84% of all meals at home in December 2020. While down from a high of 89% in April 2020, Mills pointed out that that’s still significantly more than pre-pandemic times (IRI/210 Analytics).

“Throughout the course of the year as cooking fatigue set in, consumers sought out seasoned and marinated meats for convenience and to inject variety back into their diets,” he said.

Curiosity and comfort

New proprietary consumer research from Cargill Protein found that people seek product flavors and seasonings that fall into two categories – international flair and comfort cuisine, Pianalto said.

The company is focused on delivering products that meet those two demands, she said.

“Internationally-inspired marinated and seasoned meats allow consumers to easily create their version of authentic dinners, while traditionally marinated and seasoned comfort foods ensure satisfaction, provide a sense of security for consumers, and easily deliver indulgent dinners at home.”

One example of this is Rumba Meats, Cargill Protein’s line focused on Hispanic consumers. That same research found that the majority of Hispanic consumers are making time-intensive traditional dishes on weekends and special occasions. They would love to make these authentic dishes that celebrate their heritage on busy weeknights, Pianalto said, but they don’t have the time.

“We’re looking at coupling this insight with consumers’ desire for making authentic international dishes at home,” she said. “There is some exciting authentic Latino value-added fresh meat innovation in the works that is targeted at both these consumer groups and needs.”

In addition to the new seasoned pork offerings from Tyson, meal kits have been a major area of focus for the company, which continues to explore other fresh value-added offerings.

Flavor profiles like garlic, teriyaki and barbecue have remained top sellers for several years, Mills said. Also emerging over the last five-plus years have been more bacon-infused products and cuts and flavors targeting specific cooking methods and recipes – things like pulled pork BBQ, grilling chops, fajitas and pasta-driven recipes.

Many of the core consumers in the flavored/seasoned category have children at home, so kid-friendly flavor options can also drive sales, he added.

More innovation ahead (and soon)

Looking ahead, Hormel is always working on new items to bring to market, with both new flavors and new product forms expected in the next year, Elliott said.

“We are also looking at ways to provide cooking instructions and new items that align to consumers’ new purchases of hot appliances, like pressure cookers and air fryers. We want to provide quality, flavorful solutions they can cook using their favorite cooking devices.”

The tremendous growth in the number of Americans eating dinner at home throughout the last year has certainly not gone unnoticed at Hormel. 

Many people, Elliott said, have learned new skills and are getting more confident in cooking. At the same time, consumers still crave inspiration and are getting creative to find ways to refresh old recipes. 

“We see this continuing,” she said. “Even when more meals are consumed out of the home, people want variety, and our wide portfolio of dinner items can accommodate that.”

Convenience continues to reign supreme in terms of what consumers are looking for, and Hormel is constantly looking for ways to offer quick, flavorful, quality options for them, Elliott said.

The company’s “insights-led innovation,” combined with listening closely to its customers and consumers, allows Hormel to be strategic in its approach to delivering products that meet the changing flavor and lifestyle preferences today’s consumers are demanding, she added.