It may be a specialty product now, but organ meats added to beef grinds could be the next big thing in the ground beef space. Dubbed an “ancient superfood,” organ meat is often higher in nutrients compared to muscle cuts of meat. Consumers looking to boost their intake of iron, vitamins and important minerals such as magnesium and zinc, for example, will find organ meats – and products that contain them – are loaded with health benefits. But while organ meats, or offal, have been making a comeback in recent years, many consumers are still unaware of the nutritional values of liver and heart and are unsure how to prepare them.

Two companies exhibited ground beef-organ meat blends and preparation ideas at the 2023 Annual Meat Conference held March 6-8 in Dallas.

Filling a gap

Hickory Nut Gap is a leading producer of grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork based out of a family farm in Fairview North Carolina. Owner Jamie Ager said customers approached the company about its Vital Blend which combines nutritious organ meats with the convenience of Hickory Nut Gap’s popular 80/20 ground beef 1-lb brick packs.

He said “the more conscious consumer that we interact with that wants antibiotic free, grass-fed, regenerative meat is also very interested in their health.”

“So, part of that is eating more organ meats, but it’s sometimes difficult to know how to incorporate organ meats into the diet,” Ager said. “So, blending them with ground beef makes it safe, easy and a good option.”

Vital Blend, which is available in 1-lb frozen vacuum packaging with a 12-month shelf life, is a unique and innovative way for consumers to enjoy the health benefits of liver and heart, which are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including iron, vitamins A and C, and other nutrients. The addition of these nutrient-rich ingredients to their regeneratively raised 100% grassfed ground beef creates a flavor that is both rich and satisfying.

Hickory Nut Gap’s nutrient-dense custom blend of grass-fed ground beef, liver and heart offers at least 20% more protein per serving (compared to the company’s existing 80/20 blend), which can satisfy the special needs of Keto, Paleo and Carnivore diets.

Beef heart and livers made the most sense as the organ meats to include in Vital Blend due to the availability of those cuts, Ager said. But organ meat blends also align with the industry initiative to get the most from each beef carcass.

“Part of the meat business is carcass balance and utilization,” he said. “It’s always helpful to have some ways to market those products for a good price.”

“We are a whole carcass program, so we manage our supply chain directly with farmers,” Ager said. “We’re not like a CPG brand buying raw material and packing it. We’re actually a meat company that has to manage the utilization. So, products like Vital Blend allow us to manage that really well. We don’t export any products, so this is just an opportunity to incorporate more of our own production into a retail product.”

Hearts and livers also are more manageable and not too overwhelming for consumers.

“We didn’t want to get too many weird things in there that are uncomfortable [for consumers],” Ager added. “Liver and heart are fairly normal to eat.”

Ager said natural food stores are expressing interest in Vital Blend. He suggests the blend can be incorporated into classic meals like spaghetti and meatballs.

“You don’t notice the flavor too much, and you get the health benefits,” he said. “My expectation is that a more family-style approach would be like a highly seasoned ground beef meatball program. I think some of the more paleo-centric types will probably make burgers out of it because that’s their preference, but it’s pretty versatile.”

Hickory Nut Gap productsSource: Sosland Publishing Co./Erica Shaffer


Epic entry

Consumers today want to know where their foods come from and how their foods affect their health and the health of the planet. The 2023 Power of Meat study confirmed that personal health, animal welfare, concern for the planet and social responsibility affect the food and meat choices of many American meat shoppers.

“When buying meat/poultry, 62% are looking for products that are better for their health, and about one-third consider animal welfare, the planet and social responsibility,” according to the study. And when it comes to healthy choices, consumers are focused on leanness and portion control.

Tapping into this trend more than a decade ago was Austin, Texas-based Epic Provisions which started by offering meat snacks sourced from sustainably raised, grass-fed beef, bison, pork and poultry. After selling Epic Provisions to General Mills in 2016, Katie Forest and Taylor Collins, founders of Epic Provisions, partnered with Robby Sansom to form Force of Nature Meats.

Located in Dripping Springs, Texas, Force of Nature Meats utilizes regenerative agriculture practices to maintain ecosystems and fight climate change. The company partners with farms to raise grass-fed, grass-finished pork, venison, beef, bison and elk. Force of Nature also produces wild boar meat that is sourced from animals that are trapped by ranchers.

In addition to specialty grounds featuring beef, bison, elk, wild boar and venison, the company’s Ancestral Blend is a combination of ground beef or bison with 7% liver and 3% heart, according to the company’s website. The product is available from leading retailers such as Whole Foods, Kroger, Sprouts and various others.

Force of Nature developed the Ancestral Blend to appeal to consumers interested in the nutritional benefits of organ meats but who lacked knowledge or confidence to cook it. To encourage consumption, the company provides online recipes like the Korean ancestral beef and rice bowl and bison ancestral meatballs.