KANSAS CITY - With Americans cooking at home much more during the pandemic, the need to stock plenty of value-added meat products has shot up at retail.

For Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, value-added includes case ready products as well as things like further processed items, seasonings and flavorings, portioning, and even labeling and packaging, said Ryan Vessell, the company’s vice president for innovation and growth.

A few examples of Tyson’s value-added lineup include:

  • The Ball Park lineup of fresh burgers (Smokehouse, Bacon Cheddar, Steakhouse). “We’ve seen a strong demand for flavor-infused meats,” Vessell said.
  • Seasoned whole muscle steaks and chops for added convenience and flavor exploration (Hatch green chili, el pastor).
  • A meal kit portfolio that includes items like Ready for Slow Cooker, InstantPot, and One Pan Dishes.

“It’s an area that has not only experienced tremendous growth over the past five years or so, but an area that we continue to put emphasis on as we think about new product development and leveraging our cross-protein supply and branding abilities.”

Tyson has also been evaluating ways to breathe new life into the ground beef category, which, historically, hasn’t seen a lot of innovation in the past.

“We’re exploring opportunities with protein blends, different forms (patties, loaves, chubs) and primal specific attributes, to name a few,” Vessell said. “Our goal is to generate some excitement with consumers around this category and get them thinking about this traditional item in a different way while taking advantage of value in the meat case.”

Convenience is key for consumers, he added, so value-added items that are pre-cut, pre-seasoned and ready to cook are very appealing for today’s consumer and a focus of Tyson’s.

Sous vide options

The latest value-added grocery products from Woburn, Mass.-based Verde Farms are two sous vide beef lines, Simply Sear It! and Simply Shred It!. The products make it easy for consumers to prepare tender, flavorful steak in under five minutes, said Dana Ehrlich, co-founder and CEO, because Verde has done the most crucial seasoning and cooking work in advance.

In addition to Simply Sear It! and Simply Shred It!, and Verde’s value-added offerings include marinades and smoked beef sausages sold seasonally at Costco. 

“We’ve been keenly aware of consumers’ desire for fresh innovation in value-added, especially for products with on-trend flavors that still reflect modern consumer values like simple, transparent ingredients and beef raised with respect for the animal and planet,” Ehrlich said.

Verde’s first foray into the value-added category was the marinades line, introduced in 2018, which features globally-inspired flavors like green chimichurri and Korean sesame. After that came smoked beef sausages, which offer consumers a classic grilling favorite aligned with their desire for simple, wholesome ingredients with responsible sourcing.

Time savings and ease of preparation are both value-adds for the consumer, and these can translate into convenient RTC or RTE product formats, seasonings and marinades, or even the convenience of the packaging itself, Ehrlich said.

The key, however, is to offer these values while at the same time remembering the main source of value in the product in the first place: a premium, high-quality meat. 

“We make it very easy for people to achieve chef-like results on their own in terms of both product quality and ease of preparation,” Ehrlich said.

With Simply Sear It!, for instance, Verde seasons and apply a sous vide cooking method to its 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. The meat gets cooked slowly at a low temperature for over an hour before it’s vacuum-sealed for freshness. With Simply Shred It!, product is cooked “low and slow” for more than 10 hours.

Consumers see the value when they take products from the two lines home.

“Preparation is a 5-minute fool-proof experience— just a quick sear on a hot pan or reheat in a sauce pot,” Ehrlich said.

Data shows strong growth in value-added meat sales, reflected by the way consumers are eating during the pandemic. People are spending more time at home and want a home-cooked meal experience, Ehrlich said. They’re also dealing with disruption to work and school routines, plus the general stress of the times, so they’re also gravitating towards options that can help them reduce some of the planning and work involved with preparing a meal they feel good about.

“This is a unique time for brands to build loyalty by wowing consumers with high-quality products that not only make their lives easier, but align with their values,” he said. “Consumers may try some new value-added products during this exceptional time, but if they love it, we believe they’ll stick with the brand as a favorite they can trust long-term.”

Evolving consumer needs

Flavored, pre-seasoned and ready-to-cook meats have been gaining popularity in response to changing consumer preference and interest, Vessell said. There has also been a shift in attribute-based products, ranging from NAE, organic and grass-fed to all-natural.

“We’re seeing callouts in retail that have historically been more prevalent in foodservice, like Product of the USA and USDA Prime, for example,” Vessell added. “We continue to look for solutions that ensure the quality and trust that consumers are looking for as they focus on providing their families with great eating experiences at home.”

That’s become especially important this year, as consumers prepare the majority of their meals at home. Consistency, convenience and variety are keys to ensuring that home-cooked meals don’t become drudgery to consumers.

Value-added can include a lot of different products, Vessell said. Tyson’s focus on innovation drives the company to stay ahead of consumer demands for both retail and foodservice segments, including packaging solutions, ground beef production, protein portioning and seasoned and marinated products.

The 2019 Power of Meat report made it clear that value-added has seen tremendous growth over the years, Vessell said, and 2020 has been no exception. According to the Midyear 2020 Power of Meat study, value-added meat sales jumped nearly 30% between March 15 and July 12 compared to the same period a year ago.

“Convenience is a huge driver of this growth – both pre-pandemic and now,” he said. “Consumers are looking for solutions to make mealtime more convenient and are looking for a consistent, quality product. Especially now that meal-planning fatigue has set in due to the pandemic, we know this category will continue to see growth.”

Consumers are looking to experiment, but they’ve also gotten tired of cooking meals at home, Vessell said. Value-added meats can serve a critical role in bridging that gap, especially during the upcoming holiday season with at-home family gatherings. Retailers can help overwhelmed consumers make holiday meal preparation and shopping easier.

“Another major trend we’ve seen is an increase in online shopping,” Vessell added. “One in three shoppers we surveyed plan to continue purchasing meat online after the pandemic.”

Consumers will continue to look for convenience, variety and value in the New Year, and value-added products will continue to evolve to fill that need. Tyson expects to see items such as pre-seasoned and ready-to cook meats continuing to trend in retail, as well as innovations in areas like pre-seasoned, meal kits, new cut methods and packaging, Vessell said.