New Dairy, Meat Trends Focus on Flavor, Good Fats

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Fat is back. At least healthy fats, eaten in moderation. Customers, increasingly influenced by “eat real food” campaigns, are looking for flavor and beneficial fats in their dairy and meat products, according to webinars hosted recently by HartmanSalt, the Hartman Group's online food portal.

Flavorful meats that were previously thought to be unhealthful are being brought back into the fold due to recently discovered medical benefits.

“Cutting-edge science has revealed that dark meat poultry and even grass-fed beef may lower the risk of developing certain diseases as it contains a vitamin K2 that is antiangiogenic,” explained Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights at the Hartman Group. Antiangiogenic nutrients can help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels and lowering the chances of tumors becoming malignant.

The Hartman Group thinks there will be a surge of customer interest in beef and pork driven by desire for healthy fats and quality salt. Abbott pointed out that prices and the economy will determine how this interest turns into sales.

Spinning off the reimagined burger trend in restaurants, Abbott sees home burger enthusiasts creating custom grinds from local butchers.

And, consumers that might have embraced a vegetarian diet due to concerns with industrial agriculture now have options like grass-fed and heritage meat, noted Abbott. “So the benefit perceived by consumers, as they tell us, is that heritage meats ground food products in narratives of history, place and tradition, and create easily understood markers of distinction. Heritage breeds offer new and interesting flavors for consumers.”

The desire for food narratives and distinctive flavors extends to dairy as well. Progressive consumers are looking for specialized milk, like grass-fed milk or milk from certain cow breeds with higher quality butterfat such as Jersey or Guernsey cows, according to Abbott.

Like dark meat, butter is back in consumers' good graces, made creamier and with grass-fed milk. Ingredients like grass-fed milk and natural sweeteners are also appearing in the yogurt category.

As for the future of butter, Abbott sees ghee, a strained, clarified butter with a longer shelf life and higher cooking temperature, as an “on the horizon trend for core consumers.”

The local trend works best as a metaphorical distinction, said Abbott. “It's not about literal things like food miles, and it works best as an evocative feeling,” she said. She gave the example from a menu that listed where a skirt steak was sourced from, which she said suggested a stewardship of the land and the animals reared there.

“Departments at the intersection of more general trends toward local, fresh and quality will prove the richest source of potential growth with consumers in the coming years,” said Abbott.

This focus on food feeling applies to cheese as well. “What we hear from consumers is less about the product and more about the experience,” Abbott said. Cheese can be intimidating to some customers, but retailers can help those shoppers expand their palates by offering new, different cheese samples.