KANSAS CITY — The term “sous vide” comes from the French and means “under vacuum,” and while it was once a method utilized by only the top chefs in the world, it has become a mainstream cooking process over the last few years and many meat and poultry companies are coming out with new brands of sous vide products.
The way it works is food is packaged in a vacuum-sealed bag, then cooked at a low, consistent temperature in a water bath, ensuing the juices add to the flavor.
From a consumer perspective, research completed in February by Midan Marketing, a research consultant for the meat industry, indicated that about 13% of the US meat consumer audience use the sous vide method once a month or more often.
Alex Tyre, one of Midan Marketing’s researchers, noted during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers took advantage of the opportunity to try new cooking methods and flavor profiles.
“Research we conducted in January reports 59% of meat consumers were experimenting with different ways to prepare meat and chicken,” she said. “Sous vide products provide these consumers the opportunity to continue to build their confidence in preparing meat products and deliver a consistent end product.”
Standard Meat, a Dallas- based manufacturer of meat products, offers a brand-new, state-of-the-art sous vide system with full immersion and circulation.
“We process raw materials in-house, which allows for a wide range of customizations,” said Ashli Blumenfeld, co-president of Standard Meat. “For instance, we can age beef prior to sous vide, we make custom marinades, rubs and brines. We also co-pack and do a lot of in-house brands for retailers or meal kits.”
Not only does Standard Meat have a great culinary team in two full-time tenured chefs on staff, it also has six meat science experts on staff, which ensures proper selection of beef cuts for particular sous vide applications.
“We can sous vide any protein, such as today we are doing beef, pork and chicken,” Blumenfeld said. “We excel at both short and long cook times, and we offer a wide range of protein cuts and sizes. We have whole roasts and shanks, as well as individual steak cuts, burger patties, sausage patties and meatballs, baby back ribs and short ribs.”
The company’s 10-ounce labeled packs are ideal for meal kits or on the shelf, and its bulk 5-pound options are great for assembly BOH or offsite. Additionally, Blumenfeld shared, the large roasts can be great particularly around the holidays for consumers that are not confident in their ability to cook to perfection from raw.
Brian Duffy, a culinary advisor for Duffified Experience Group, feels that while the average consumer may know what sous vide is, he still thinks many haven’t tried the products and may be hesitant to seek out the products on their own.
“That’s why seeing it in the grocery store makes it more accessible and normal, so retailers who showcase their sous vide offerings will find larger sales I believe,” he said. “It’s very appealing.
Sous vide is a pretty great technique and when all the consumer sous vide units came out, foodie people flocked to them. Now seeing it in a grocery store makes it more mainstream.”
Appeal of sous vide
Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale, Ark., noted in a recent company Trendtellers report that sous vide was expected to be one of the hottest food trends in the United States, and projected the category to increase in popularity in the years ahead.
After all, the sous vide products provide quality and consistency and therefore are rising in popularity year after year. With a limited skill level, a home cook or back of house team can deliver chef quality with complex, locked-in flavor profiles every time. In fact, consumers can get a perfectly cooked steak in just five minutes when they use searing to finish and reheat.
The Tyson report noted that while still a small segment, sous vide is an emerging space in retail and one that retailers and the companies that supply them should be keeping an eye on.
Blumenfeld noted sous vide offers numerous benefits to consumers, retailers and food service alike.
“First, it’s convenient—customers only need a quick reheat to get dinner on the table versus cooking a raw protein,” he said. “Next, sous vide ensures a consistent, high-quality product. Grocery stores can provide a product with complex flavors and textures for any home cook to enjoy. It also helps retailers upgrade their ready-to-eat programs and grab-and-go platforms.”
Plus, sous vide products are pasteurized for a high level of food safety, and they still offer a great refrigerated shelf life while retaining moisture and maintaining color in steak applications.
“Because of the sous vide method, products can have a clean, or limited, label,” Blumenfeld said. “We can deliver a product with ingredients consumers are seeking.”
Duffy said retailers are attracted to sous vide products because it’s an easy inventory item, is responsible for less waste and is an upgrade (or complement) to the prepared food section. Plus, he feels there’s an upscale component to a sous vide offering.
James Zola, senior meat buyer for Whole Foods Market’s Northeast region, said the supermarket chain is currently only offering sous vide meat products from Kevin’s Natural Foods, with the most popular being Korean BBQ-Style Chicken, Thai-Style Coconut Chicken and Lemongrass Chicken.
“Customers seem to like them and they’re quick and easy to make,” he said. “Typically, they have about a 30-plus day expiration window.”
Kevin’s Natural Foods also offers beef entrees and some sides (some with cauliflower) that are sold at other retailers throughout the United States.
“Our mission is to make clean eating taste good, and sous-vide has been a foundational technology to help us deliver on this commitment. Sous vide is powerful because it is the only cooking method that simultaneously improves the shelf life, convenience and quality of meat and veggies,” said Kevin McCray, co-founder and COO of the Stockton, Calif.-based company. “Retailers like them because it empowers shoppers to get all of the benefits that high-quality protein has to offer without the hassle of scratch cooking.”
Food Lion carries an array of sous vide products from Swift Prepared Foods’ Savora Sous Vide brand, including different flavors of steak, chicken and turkey. A spokesperson for the retailer noted that there’s definitely been an uptick on sales over the last year and it’s devoted more shelf space to the product in recent months.
While sous vide products saw increases in sales during the pandemic at many supermarkets, it’s still important for retailers to draw attention to them on the shelves so that consumers who haven’t tried them before will check them out.
“Instead of focusing on calling it ‘sous vide,’ we recommend retailers market the quality and convenience, as well as how easy it is to reheat the products,” Blumenfeld said. “Consumer ease-of-use is key to the success of these products.”
Duffy recommends utilizing signs that say things like, “just like your favorite restaurant,” “cook like a chef” or “less waste and more flavor” to draw attention to the sous vide products at the store.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board recently released data that showed in the sous vide category, lamb and pork showed impressive year-on-year increases.
“Beef has seen slight declines highlighting an opportunity to push further,” the report noted. “Key for sous vide is tactical support. Around a third of sous vide volumes are sold on promotion. During the pandemic, meal deal promotions were scaled back but Y for X deals remained just as important for the category as previous years.”
Now that people are heading back to work and won’t have the time to cook that they may have had over the past 18 months, it’s a good bet that sous vide products will only continue to rise in popularity as consumers realize they can get great flavor in their meat and poultry in a convenient way.