KANSAS CITY, MO. — Post-COVID returns to work and after-school activities are creating busier schedules for many consumers — and greater demand for more value-added protein products, said Tammy Gonzales, senior marketing manager of Cargill Deli & Prepared Entrees.

“Consumers’ lifestyles are changing,” she said. “Additionally, inflation and efforts to stretch budgets further is driving demand across foodservice and retail.”

Cargill Protein’s value-added product roster includes a line of fully cooked prepared meats sold in a bulk bag for use in service delis, Gonzales said. These products can be merchandised in a hot bar or for cold-case heat-and-eat meals.

In addition, Cargill Protein markets pre-packaged, heat-and-eat prepared entrees that are typically merchandised on the meat wall. These items feature a meat and a sauce, requiring consumers to purchase just a starch to make a complete meal.

Rounding out the company’s value-added offerings are raw marinated meats, merchandised in the fresh meat case. Cargill Protein has sold these products at retail for years, but there have definitely been changes in the value-added category, Gonzales said.

In the past, for instance, prepared entrees and marinated meats focused mainly on what she categorized as “basic, comfort food flavors,” like garlic, herb and salt and pepper.

Youth movement 

Today’s younger consumers, by contrast, enjoy global foods and meats as an ingredient (rather than a center-plate option). Latin, Asian and Mediterranean foods are among the favorites of the younger crowd, Gonzales said. Many of these cuisines, however, aren’t the easiest to make.

“We’ve found consumers love to go out to eat and enjoy these international foods, but they don’t know how to replicate them at home. They’re also concerned with attempting at home and failing — especially when it comes to beef.

When it comes to the “meat as an ingredient” trends, meanwhile, meat in a taco or a bowl is one of the favorite options today.

“We are currently working on an innovation pipeline focused on creating even more products leveraging the global cuisines and meat as ingredient trends.”

Cargill Protein has already adjusted its value-added lineup to reflect those and other trends.

For instance, the company’s new raw marinated Birria product has been a big hit, as have globally inspired cuisines in its prepared entrée product line, including Sweet Garlic Sesame Chicken and Pork Carnitas.

“Birria has been part of a globally-inspired raw marinated innovation workstream,” Gonzales said. “In addition, we are also rolling out barbacoa, carne asada, fajitas and Vietnamese BBQ steak.”

On the fully-cooked side meanwhile, Cargill Protein is launching two new globally inspired items this summer: Chili Lime Pork and Orange Ginger Pork.

One area for big value-added growth at grocery — but that hasn’t been tapped yet — is upgrades to the prepared foods section hot bar, Gonzales said.

“Most hot bar products consist of fried chicken and maybe barbecue,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to offer globally inspired meals, such as burrito bowls, tacos or stir fry bowls to drive sales.”