Rising annual sales of retail breakfast and dinner sausage in the United States confirm that these versatile, convenient and satisfying meats remain the protein of choice for millions of Americans.

For the 52 weeks ending Dec. 2, sales of refrigerated breakfast sausage totaled $1,413,206,000 – up 2.2 percent from the same year-earlier period, while refrigerated dinner sausage sales were $2,925,715,000 – up almost 5 percent from one year earlier, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

Up and at ‘em

Packaged sausage ranked third out of 15 breakfast foods in consumer usage during the week and on weekends, Mintel reports in a recent consumer survey. Twenty-six percent of the 20,000 respondents indicated they eat packaged sausage during the week and on weekends. Added fiber, lower sodium and lower fat content are important benefits to all age groups, but more consumers aged 55-plus deem these attributes important when purchasing breakfast foods, Mintel states.

Fully cooked products are the biggest contributor to breakfast sausage category growth, as consumers seek out more convenient options delivering the same great taste and quality of fresh breakfast sausage, says Amy Grabow, vice president of marketing for Hillshire Brands’ Jimmy Dean brand. “We’re also seeing consumer demand for poultry options is up, as consumers continue to request better-for-you products for their breakfasts that are full of savory, delicious taste,” she adds.

In 2012, the retail breakfast sausage category experienced a 1.4 percent increase in dollar sales while Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage increased 4.4 percent in dollar sales, according to the SymphonyIRI Group. “Fully cooked sausage drove this category growth as a result of innovative product launches, such as Jimmy Dean Hearty Sausage Crumbles, which was voted ‘Breakfast Product of the Year’ by [60,000] consumers in 2011,” Grabow says.

In addition, Jimmy Dean recently introduced a new sweet and savory, fully cooked poultry option – Fully Cooked Maple Turkey Sausage Patties – which adds flavor and variety to the Jimmy Dean portfolio of better-for-you, fully cooked products.

In the frozen protein breakfast category, Jimmy Dean is expanding its Delights by Jimmy Dean product portfolio, a line of great-tasting, better-for-you, frozen convenience products featuring less than 300 calories. The newest additions to this line are three varieties of Delights Flatbread Sandwiches: Turkey Sausage, Egg & Cheese; Bacon, Egg & Cheese and the first meatless option to the Delights by Jimmy Dean portfolio featuring Egg White with Spinach & Mozzarella-Style Cheese. These products will be available in grocery stores nationwide starting in February.

The Jimmy Dean brand is also scheduled to start rolling out new packaging for its line of refrigerated breakfast products, including fresh-roll sausage and fully cooked links and patties, early this year.

At foodservice, burritos and wraps experienced the largest growth from 2009-12, according to Mintel’s Breakfast Restaurant Trends – US, February 2012. Breakfast in restaurants has been increasing in popularity, as many operators have added breakfast platforms in an effort to counteract lukewarm consumer spending. Pepe’s Breakfast Burrito, a meal wrapped up in a flour tortilla, containing pieces of bacon and sausage, scrambled eggs, pico de gallo, beans and cheese, is one example of products moving this category.

Regarding top breakfast dishes on menus during 2009-12, sausage ranked 14 out of 20 offerings. Other top breakfast dishes, which may include sausage, and their rankings are platter, ranked No. 3; omelet, ranked No. 4; wrap, 11; scramble, 12; crepe, 16; skillet, 17; and taco, 19.

Retail dinner sausage

For the 12 weeks ending Jan. 23, 2013, smoked sausage sales were up and one key driver was the Hillshire Farm brand, says Kevin Phillips, director of marketing, smoked sausage for the Hillshire Farm brand under Hillshire Brands.

“This aligns with what we know about increased demand for smoked sausage in the cooler months, when consumers are using it more frequently in a variety of recipes and meal occasions,” Phillips adds. “Within the Hillshire Farm portfolio, beef sausage has a strong and loyal following and remains an important segment of our business, which is up 10 percent.

“Opportunity also exists within the poultry sausage category, which is up 1 percent [according to IRI Source data from Jan. 6 for the past 52 weeks].”

While volume sales are down slightly, household penetration is up one point for the smoked sausage category driven by Hillshire Farm’s performance. This is due to Hillshire Farm’s increased marketing support of its product line in the back-half of the 2012 calendar year.

Last year, Hillshire Farm Gourmet Creations were launched. This line of premium pre-cooked smoked sausage is made with a blend of quality ingredients and inspired flavors, designed to allow consumers to create restaurant gourmet meals in their homes, Phillips says.

“Alongside four existing flavors including Chicken Apple with Gouda, Beef & Bacon with Monterey Jack Cheese, Beef & Jalapeño with Monterey Jack and Sweet Italian Style, we’re excited to introduce a new flavor experience with the addition of Chicken Basil Pesto with Parmesan,” he adds. “With no artificial colors, flavors or by-products and 13 grams of protein per serving, this addition to the Gourmet Creations line enhances the versatility of Hillshire Farm’s portfolio.”

Looking to the future

Jimmy Dean’s team anticipates fully cooked breakfast sausage products will continue to be a growth driver since consumer demand for convenient products delivering on great taste and quality is increasing.

“Jimmy Dean will continue to expand the category with ongoing product innovation – both in fully cooked and in the fresh sausage category,” Grabow says. “As the trend of recipe sharing on social media continues to grow, there is an opportunity to introduce different usage ideas and consumption occasions outside the traditional breakfast meal time for both fully cooked and fresh breakfast sausage products,” she adds.

Within the Hillshire Farm portfolio, Phillips says his team sees flavorful offerings as influential category drivers for future growth. “Flavor expansion will always play a key role in our consideration set and we also see great opportunity in helping our consumers build upon ways they can use smoked sausage within their everyday recipes,” he adds. 

Top 5 Sausage Brands


1 Jimmy Dean — $476,223,400

2 Johnsonville — $138,211,900

3 Bob Evans — $124,238,500

4 Private-Label — $123,165,500

5 Tennessee Pride — $85,777,460


1 Johnsonville — $651,767,600

2 Hillshire Farm — $451,526,100

3 Private-Label — $278,350,200

4 Eckrich — $184,851,700

5 Hillshire Farm/Lit’l Smokies — $122,885,000

Latest 52-week period ending 12/02/2012. Total US Multi-Outlet (Supermarkets, Drugstores, Mass Market Retailers, Military Commissaries and Select Club & Dollar Retail Chains). Source: SymphonyIRI Group