For food lovers, grilling season is different than just about any other time of the year. It’s often experiential and a great way to share different seasoned meats and poultry items with family and friends.
Rick Husted, vice president, market research and strategic planning, at the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, notes that through 2018, both marinated and seasoned beef product at retail have increased by roughly one-third over the past four years. However, this is on a very low base as these products historically represent less than 1% of all beef sold.
“The data suggests that these products command, on average, a higher price point than average beef prices over that same time frame,” he says.
Dana Ehrlich, CEO and founder of Woburn, Massachusetts-based Verde Farms, notes that when it comes to grilling, he feels the most notable innovation right now is sous vide.
“While seasonal grilling is something so many consumers look forward to, there has always been some trepidation around the possibility of ruining a great piece of meat like a beautiful ribeye – especially if they’ve spent time marinating it,” he says. “Sous vide and reverse sear have already been a trend among chefs and foodies, but consumers now have the opportunity to have amazingly tender, delicious and completely fool-proof meat in under 10 minutes by incorporating innovative new sous vide products into their repertoire—both pre-marinated and seasoned options, as well as center-plate cuts like ribeye and Butcher’s Steak.”
In addition to full proof preparation in grilling and beyond, Ehrlich says the modern consumer is looking to check numerous boxes including elevated flavors and authentic, organic, real ingredients.
To respond to those trends, Verde Farms is releasing its Simply Sear It line, consisting of 100% grass-fed organic ribeye and beef shreds in seasoned flavors like tangy BBQ, barbacoa, Carne Asada, and teriyaki.
Johnsonville Sausage, based in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, doesn’t deal with marinated proteins, but it does offer a series of limited time offer varieties in certain regions—especially summer for grilling time—that have unique season profiles.
“We like to offer consumers a new flavor to provide some variety among our traditional sausages,” says Stephanie Dlugopolski, marketing manager for the company. “We have a nice lineup of sausage LTOs again this year in bratwurst and Italian sausage varieties.”
The insights, sensory and analytics team at Tyson Fresh Meats, a division of Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, says consumers are interested in these marinated and seasoned meats because they’re the best of both worlds—quality fresh meats that they cook, but with some of the prep work done for them to deliver a better overall experience.
“Convenience continues to drive increased usage, and it can save anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours of time for a consumer over plain proteins,” says Brian Ley, director consumer insights and strategy for Tyson Foods. “These products can also fit nicely into consumer desires for high quality, less processed products that align to long-term health goals.”
Among its top offerings in the category are Ball Park hot dogs, Tyson fresh poultry and Hillshire Farm sausage links, all available in new flavor-forward products in 2020 and a perfect match for the grill.
Jason Menke, director of marketing communications for the Des Moines, Iowa-based National Pork Board, notes that there is a whole cadre of information that talks about the value of pre-marinated and seasoned across the store year-round, and that it’s a growing category.
“We released a report last January called Dinner at Home in America, where we interviewed 10,000 consumers about their choices when eating at home and eating away from home and how they were purchasing meats and pork,” he says. “The report identified nine key meal occasions, and when you’re looking at grilling, there is a huge draw for families to go to a pre-marinated, pre-seasoned product if they are in the mid-week mode so they can just fire up the grill, put on something that’s flavorful and quick to cook.”
When it comes to weekends—a celebration or a meal for a large group—Menke says there’s more time and thought put into grilling and people might be more inclined to applying their own rubs or sauces to fresh meats and pork.
“We’re talking to the packer community and retailers to help them understand these consumer needs and what’s driving consumer purchase behavior,” Menke says.
Jason Jerome, senior director, retail and foodservice engagement, at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, notes convenience is one of the main factors in consumers choosing pre-seasoned beef.
“A lot of consumers today want products that are easy to prepare at home,” he says. “Consumers can also benefit from a cost savings by having the option to select less tender/less expensive cuts that benefit from marinating and improve eating experience.”
Ehrlich says that Millennials especially appreciate the convenience of these seasoned products for grilling.
“There is a consistent appreciation for convenience, but it’s also married with a desire to explore and enjoy globally-inspired flavors,” he says. “We’ve been building on this strong consumer demand with ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat products that align with their values for real ingredients and superior, sustainable sourcing.”
For instance, last year the company launched two 100% grass-fed grilling classics: three all-beef uncured dinner sausage varieties with savory flavor profiles including a Texas-style hardwood smoked link, a hatch green chile and cheddar link, and a chorizo and queso fresco link, plus new all-beef, uncured hot dogs in all natural and organic options.
Marketing and merchandising tips
For supermarkets that are looking to bolster sales of these products, Jerome recommends highlighting a marinated/seasoned section of the meat case to provide consumers a central location to find a flavor profile they like.
“Demo stations are also a vital part of making the marinated/seasoned beef options successful,” he says. “Customers may not be familiar with the different flavor profiles available in the case and demos can help with that decision. Demos can also give the retailer the opportunity to push a flavor profile or cut that they are trying to highlight and enhance the sales of those items.”
Johnsonville Sausage offers different point of sale creative to help retailers merchandise any LTOs they may stock, and those highlight the different seasoned products it currently have available.
"Consumers now have the opportunity to have amazingly tender, delicious and completely fool-proof meat in under 10 minutes by incorporating innovative new sous vide products into their repertoire."
-Dana Ehrlich, Verde Farms
Supermarkets may also find success promoting these items on social media.
“As consumers visit social channels, like Pinterest or Instagram, for quick dinner options, pre-marinated and/or pre-seasoned beef and easy sides can create convenient meals consumers are seeking,” Jerome says.
Research shows that consumers are hungry for guidance and ideas when it comes to confidently transforming the meat they buy into a complete meal.
To increase sales, Ehrlich recommends that retailers think about occasions and meals instead of product formats, bringing together elements of the entire meal and merchandising them together—either in the meat case or in secondary displays.
“For instance, retailers could position Our Simply Sear It! Carne Asada steak strips, some cut veggies to sear, an authentic Mexican cheese blend, and a selection of tortillas together to put everything the consumer needs for a meal in one place,” he says. “Better yet, retailers can display take-away instructions to demonstrate how fast and easy it is to make a delicious, flavorful meal from those components.”
Menke says grilling season has some major holidays in the summer, kicking off with Memorial Day and running through Father’s Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, and stores need to focus their marketing message around these dates. But they should also be aware of families who may be celebrating summer birthdays or hosting parties for team sports or family reunions.
“For retailers, it’s about how to connect the things people will need for that occasion,” he says. “Maybe they can put more spices, seasonings and sauces closer to the meat perimeter, so consumers can grab and go and keep on moving.”
Verde Farms works as a fully integrated partner to help inform in-store merchandising and sales programs through collaborative marketing, data driven insights, and educational materials for their sales team and consumers.
“We take time to educate our retail partners on the benefits and attributes of Verde’s products so they can address their consumers’ interests instore,” Ehrlich says. “We also partner with customers on signage, promotions, and demos to drive awareness and trial of new products and flavors, and provide delicious recipes, cooking demos, and images for them to cross-promote on their social channels.”
So, as consumers open up their backyard grills, there will be unique cuts of meat like tri-tip, pork belly or even wild game—each cut enhanced by layering flavors—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami—and unlocking richer and deeper tastes.
“In addition to leveraging a variety of proteins and flavors, these backyard chefs are also bringing techniques like sous-vide, the reverse sear method and smoking to their summer barbecues, enabled by increasing access to smart grilling technology that is as functional as it is futuristic,” Ley says. “The magic of summer grilling is that it provides the backdrop for the ultimate cooking experience.”