KANSAS CITY, MO. – People love cooking and eating sausage as it’s inherently social, whether you’re eating with your family around the breakfast table or grilling out at a tailgate.
“It’s also incredibly versatile—whether as an ingredient in a pasta dish, pizza topping or center of the plate, sausage always delivers on flavor,” said Patrick Fleming, brand specialist for Midan Marketing. “Consumers only need a gentle reminder to put sausage in their baskets because they already know and love the product.”
During the pandemic, research from IRI showed that dinner sausage experienced a 21% year-over-year dollar sales increase in 2020 and a 13.2% year-over-year volume increase. Breakfast sausage also saw high growth numbers, up 13.9% from 2020 as of May.
Drew Calvert, vice president of prepared foods for Niman Ranch, saw the company’s retail presence grow during the pandemic for sausage products, with its breakfast items seeing a big uptick.
“Our closed loop system proved to be more than strong enough to maintain our product when the supply chain was significantly disrupted during COVID,” he said. “Our authentic, farm-to-fork supply chain is the foundation of what we’ve always done. We stay true to who we are and haven’t deviated and because of that, consumers and retailers trust our product and the transparency we provide.”
Rebecca Baker, chief marketing officer at Syracuse, NY-based Hofmann Sausage Company, noted natural-tasting and skinless sausages are doing well.
“Some people like the natural-tasting products when they’re grilled because you get that nice little ‘snap’ when you bite into it,” she said. “There are a lot of things that people are exploring that are maybe a little different than before.”
For instance, new flavors such as pepper jack, sweet bell pepper and pineapple are all finding their way into flavor profiles.
“The category is evolving,” Baker said.
Fresh and exciting
In the fresh sausage segment, Midan Marketing has noticed a high demand for fresh sausage meatballs for easy weeknight convenience.
“We’ve also seen manufacturers experiment with other proteins and blended products,” Fleming said. “This includes chicken sausage or blends like chicken/pork, beef/pork or even veggie or plant-based sausage blends.”
Another trend that’s popular with sausage manufacturers is increased flavor experimentation. Sausage has a lot of touchpoints around the world, from chorizo to linguiça, and consumers’ desire to experiment with global flavor profiles has reinvigorated the sausage category.
New and improved
Beef sausage is also gaining traction in the stores. Kay Cornelius, general manager of Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Meats, noted there are very few beef sausages currently on the market and almost none in the organic category. That’s why the company has put a big focus on its organic sausage, raised by US family ranchers.
“Panorama Organic Hickory Smoked Uncured Sausages have an Audubon Certification and a commitment to preserve over 700,000 acres of grasslands,” she said. “The product is hand crafted in a multi-generational smokehouse in the old-world style of smoked polish sausages. A great link that fits in a bun or served as a component of any fantastic family meal.”
This summer, Kiolbassa Smoked Meats launched a Cajun-style Andouille smoked sausage, a blend of premium spices and fine-cuts of pork that are hardwood smoked to perfection.
“Our Louisiana-style kick and smoky flavor differentiates them from our other smoked sausages, and they are for a limited time only,” said Michael Kiolbassa, CEO and president of Kiolbassa Smoked Meats.
Hofmann Sausage Company expanded its product line quite a bit over the last couple of years, including the introduction of the Roasted Red Pepper & Asiago Chicken Sausage and a maple breakfast sausage, both of which have been popular among consumers.
“We also have Italian sausage, a great jalapeno cheddar sausage and a kielbasa, so we have quite a few products that follow the national trends we are seeing,” Baker said. “The American palate likes hotter and spicier foods, so we are bringing some of those to market. We try to come up with new products that are a bit more creative than what is out there today.”
Niman Ranch recently introduced a new Applewood Smoked Bacon Breakfast Sausage, which has been performing very well in 2022.
“Finally, breakfast meat lovers can have both sausage and bacon all in one package—we call it the ‘perfect link,’” Calvert said. “This new product was recognized by People Magazine in their prestigious annual Food Awards.”
Marketing and merchandizing
For stores looking to bolster their sausage sales, Baker recommends having a set space for the products during the peak grilling season of Memorial Day through Labor Day.
“A lot of grocery partners have that space for seasonal items, or special bunkers, and that’s always good for sales,” she said. “I also like when they combine a lot of the like-products, so there are some condiments on an endcap or buns. People like it easy and to be able to grab everything at once is always a good thing.”
Consumers want to know the story behind their food, which can be achieved through on-pack claims and certifications, but Calvert noted there’s so much more retailers can do to offer that connection and help buyers feel good about their purchases.
“We partner with retailers to create custom window clings, signage and scannable QR codes that tell the Niman brand story,” he said. “This helps our retailers drive our product sales and also attract more premium buyers with larger basket sizes.”
Cross merchandizing is also a good idea, and there are several opportunities to upsell complementary items along with sausage, such as providing recipe inspiration by way of pasta or pizza dishes or merchandising sausage alongside ground beef as both an alternative and complement to ground beef dishes.
“Brats can be cross-merchandised with pre-sliced peppers, onions and mushrooms,” Fleming said. “Shoppers can pick up sausage without a recipe in mind, similar to how they shop for ground beef or chicken breasts. Sausage’s flavor proposition makes it a uniquely simple ingredient for busy weeknight meals.”
Kerri McClimen, vice president communications for Niman Ranch, noted the company cross promotes its Fat Tire BBQ Collection, which has been a popular pairing in supermarkets.
“The Niman Ranch and New Belgium Brewing have a very popular bold and spicy Voodoo Ranger Mango Habanero IPA Beer Bratwurst,” she said. “The new brat combines Niman Ranch’s Certified Humane pork, raised sustainably with no antibiotics—ever, with Voodoo Ranger India Pale Ale, the fastest growing IPA brand among its peers in the nation. Who doesn’t want a beer to go with a delicious spicy brat?”
Baker champions the ideas of in-store recipes near the products and believes that will help sell more sausages and other complementary items.
“There are a lot of people who want to explore more culinary toppings, and we have some recipes online that consumers can find and dress up their sausages,” she said.