Sous vide has really taken off in the past year, and for many retailers who are dipping their toes in the water, experimenting with bringing in more of these products in the meat cases, they are seeing summertime a particularly strong time for sales.
Karen Meleta, a spokesperson for ShopRite, the Keasbey, New Jersey retailer, says the company’s stores have seen an uptick in sous vide product moving this summer, citing the multitude of YouTube and TV cooking shows that are promoting sous vide. That’s meant that more “home chefs” are buying the needed equipment to perfect sous vide meat and poultry at home.
“Most people want to eat good food, but they don’t have time to cook. With sous vide, you eliminate the overcooking issue and for that reason, people can always look forward to a perfectly cooked meal with little effort,” Meleta says. “Plus, this is a new and fun way to cook—the last big cooking revolution was the microwave, but... I wouldn’t consider that cooking.”
Tyson Foods, based in Springdale, Arkansas, released its 2019 “Trendtellers” report, and revealed sous vide is one of the hottest food trends in the U.S., and projected the category to increase in popularity in the years ahead.
“One factor that has contributed to the rise is that consumers recognize vacuum sealing as a way to preserve freshness,” says Kwany Lui, director of marketing for Tyson Brands Innovation.
Data in the report suggests sous vide, while still a small segment, is an emerging space in retail and one that retailers and the companies that supply them should be keeping an eye on.
“We are constantly working to develop products that meet the wants and needs of consumers,” says Patricia Luczak, director of marketing for Tyson Brands Innovation. “Despite being a growing trend, our consumers are not quite aware of sous vide, but it is something we’ll continue to access.”
Deniero Bartolini, founder of Toronto-based D. L Bartolini Trading Inc., a silicone kitchenware company that manufactures reusable sous vide bags, says the company’s goal in the industry is to provide these sustainable sous vide products to avoid unnecessary waste—something that both consumers and retailers are showing a greater interest in.
“There is a tremendous interest in sustainability and today’s consumers are concerned more than ever about the environment and how to best protect our future,” he says. “When people shop, they are attracted to products that promote sustainability, and with the rise in sous vide, retailers can see success with these products.”
The company attributes 30% of its sales to sous vide and are expecting to see the number increase to more than 50% in the next 12 months.
“The industry is growing very fast and we are absolutely excited to see how this market will evolve,” Bartolini says. “To keep with the trend of sustainable measures, our mission is to limit single-use plastic waste in the sous vide world. We do that by providing functional yet refined sous vide bags that can last a lifetime.”
Although steak and meat products are often thought of when cooking sous vide, poultry products are definitely on trend. Bartolini gets many inquiries about chicken and has seen a rise in the category.
“We have noticed an increase in people cooking sous vide chicken for sure,” he says. “Initially, most people felt comfortable cooking steak and pork, but more and more people—especially the ones that have been cooking sous vide for a while—are starting to experiment with white meats. Chicken breast especially is hard to cook and with sous vide, it always turns out perfect.”
One company that found success with sous vide chicken is Wayne Farms, the Oakwood, Georgia-based company that began offering a sous vide fully cooked chicken breast last year.
The company piloted a program, selling its Naked Truth Premium Chicken— fully-cooked, flame-grilled chicken breast made via sous vide technology—at Sam’s Club stores in 19 states, and were impressed with how well it went over with consumers.
Each individually-wrapped, fully cooked 5 oz Naked Truth chicken breast fillet not only had authentic grill marks, but thanks to sous vide preparation, it was easy to prepare by microwave, conventional oven, or cook top, never drying out.
Tom Bell, Wayne Farms’ vice president and general manager of prepared foods, notes transparency is a big reason for the launch’s success.
“Conscientious consumers want to know where their food comes from, and they continue to raise the bar regarding animal welfare,” he says. “They’re paying more attention to labels, and they’re opting for high quality chicken products sourced from flocks whose care has been verified by a trusted third party.”
Meals to Go
Joe Sielski, president of Orange, California-based Minipack America, says that in the process of sous vide cooking, you need a device to heat the product (oven or circulator) and a vacuum sealer to seal the product into a bag, and that’s where his company comes in.
Minipack America offers sealers such as boilable zipper vacuum bags that are utilized by companies with marinated meats with 14-day shelf life, which are growing in popularity in supermarkets.
“That’s fairly new, and I get asked about that every day,” Sielski says. “Just this week, a chain of 156 stores in the Maine area asked me what bags were available. These are value-added products, so supermarkets are very interested in them.”
He explains there are three ways to marinate: sitting in storage for 24 hours; under vacuum, where you can put it in a bag and let the machine marinate it; or vacuum tumbling, which is the best way of getting an increase in weight and flavor.
“People want convenience. Most people are looking for a product that is already marinated, in a bag and ready to go so you can just open it and place it on a grill or in the oven, or they are looking for marinated where it’s in the case and you can take it home and go,” Sielski says.
Originally, the company’s business was mostly working with chefs, but today it’s working more with the supermarkets themselves, as more stores are hiring chefs to get foods sous vide ready. This is something that has been trending at upscale markets in the past year or two.
“They are looking at having meals ready to go, and sous vide is part of that,” Sielski says. “Young people are looking for easy meals to assemble or take home and put together, whether that be a crockpot meal or pre-marinated meats. That’s a trend that we see really gaining traction and we don’t expect that to slow down.”
With so many supermarkets going to vacuum sealing for sous vide meat products, his business is starting to trend upward, even as more competition comes into the industry.
One concern of sous vide products in the supermarket perimeter is everything has to go through a HACCP process and employees need to log what they are doing in the process to verify their times and temperatures. Minipack America has built-in software in its vacuum sealers to make this easy.
“The supermarket industry is opening up for us right now because we have the only machine that does it electronically,” Sielski says. “It’s like a tutorial that reminds you of the four or five things you need to do before you start vacuum packaging.”
As with any new trend, people need to try it to become convinced of its merits, and retailers can put in some work to get the word out about these sous vide products.
“I think that having Costco style sampling booths in retail stores is key to getting people engaged,” Bartolini says. “The early adopters are already sold on it. Now we are looking to attract the rest of the market, but to do that, we need big brands to step up and physically get in front of the public.”
Sielski recently met a young meat merchandizer in Utah at the Associated Grocers Show who built a “wall of meats in the future,” where he marinated a whole bunch of meats, put them on a peg board, and provided instructions on how to take these sous vide products home and cook them.
“I thought this was a very clever idea, and I could see something like this happening mainstream in the next five years,” he says. “For now, he’s also putting ‘great for barbeque’ on them and gaining interest that way.”