Every year at the exhibit hall at the Annual Meat Conference visitors can suss out the latest trends by sight, smell and taste. And this year’s conference, held at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, didn’t disappoint. The biggest trends for retailers were in transparent packaging, convenience foods, and in sausages with beer flavors.
Transparency: seeing is believing
Typically, transparency in the meat section refers to labels — whether they indicate where the meat comes from or how the animal was raised. But it seems customers also want to take a peek at the product, too. Many companies were trading in opaque packaging for clear options. At the National Beef booth, casings on chubs of beef had clear sides, which a representative said were in response to customer demand. Mighty Spark, a new brand on the market, put its patties and other products in boxes with cut-out window so customers could view the meat inside. Beef brand Schweid & Sons combines the traditional butcher sleeve with a clear plastic wrap to give customers a look at their burgers.
The meal-kit creators were also embracing transparency. Meal kits designed to be sold at groceries – like the Chef’d and Smithfield partnership and Tastemakers from Tyson – were packaged in clear boxes so customers could get a sense of the quality and freshness of the ingredients.
Convenience with meal kits and beyond
Meal kits were a big part of the convenience trend. The previously mentioned boxes were one of handful created to lower the barrier to entry for retailers to get into the meal-kit game.
Groceries such as Tops have been selling Chef’d’s meals for a few months. Tastemakers from Tyson, which is expanding to nationwide retailers in March, offers traditional meal kits as well as center-of-the-plate protein-only options with sophisticated marinates and dressing for the meat. Chefs’ Menu works with groceries to deliver traditional and seasonal meal kits and mix-and-match options for consumers using either the company’s or the retailers’ meat.
Pre-seasoned meats were also popular at the conference. With these products, consumers don’t need to buy tons of ingredients and instead can toss the meat in a pan and have a nearly complete meal, a rep from Mighty Spark said. The company’s ground blends come in flavors like sweet Thai, a chicken, cilantro, shallot and honey blend. Another example of meal-ready meat came from Thomas Foods International. Its new line of seasoned ground beef is a partnership with chef Curtis Stone and includes seasoned beef for chili and tacos. And with the Dios Rios fully cooked seasoned taco meat filling, customers only had to heat the meat and add their own taco shells and fixings for a complete meal.
Sausage and beer pairings
Sausage was everywhere at the conference, and while there were plenty of traditional options like andouille and chorizo, beer flavors keep popping up. Mighty Spark Food Co. was one of the brands hitting on several of the top trends. Its bratwurst is made with bacon, cheddar cheese and beer. Gilbert’s Craft Sausage has a number of unusually flavored sausages – kale chicken and bourbon apple, for example – but it plans to release an offering that incorporates craft beer next, according to a company representative. And at the Johnsonville’s booth, the company displayed some of its newest flavors, which included the Tailgate – a cheddar and beer bratwurst.