Consumers stuck at home during the pandemic expanded their culinary horizons in an effort not to make the same foods over and over. That wider scope is now taking shape in a demand for new and unique spices, and suppliers and their commissary and retail partners are working hard to keep the new flavors coming.

For full-service retail grocery meat cases, Pekin, Ill.-based Excalibur Seasoning is seeing strong demand for sausage blends and for its Small Batch program, said John Brewer, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Excalibur’s sausage blend batches are typically made for 25 pounds of product. The Small Batch program provides retail butchers with a 10-pound option.

“On a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, it may be tough for a retailer to move through that much stock,” he said. “We dialed it down so the retailer can keep it fresh and offer more variety to the customer.”

The 10-pound batch can be used for both service and self-serve programs, said Bob Andorfer, Excalibur’s national sales director. He said it offers retailers the ability to customize a program that sets them apart from their competitors.

“Producing 10 pounds at a time allows for varieties available besides the traditional Italian, regular bratwurst, etc. It helps the retailer create their own identity.”

When it comes to trends, international flavors continue to be a focus for Excalibur, said Brewer, who fields a lot of questions from retailers on how Excalibur can help them meet that particular need. Gochujang and Piri Piri are two of the current must-haves.

“From a retailer standpoint, they want to get that customer in their store so they can sell around the international selection and say that they have it,” he said. “It’s the point of difference that the retail base is looking for.”

The path to mainstream for many retailers and their supplier partners who are looking to capitalize on international offerings is via pre-packaged products and pre-prepped meals that consumers finish at home, Brewer said.

A lot of international flavors are being driven by what’s being offered in boxed home meals, Andorfer added.

“That’s where those flavors are coming into play,” he said. “We’re seeing more people looking on their own for the seasonings they want and foregoing a subscription to the home meal delivery services.”

Foodies continue to drive trends in spice preferences, Andorfer said. And grocers are looking for those foodies who are willing to spend money on meals that are out of the ordinary.

In addition to international flavors, another trend those foodies are increasingly leaning into is cooking with fire. It should continue through 2022 and into 2023, Brewer predicted.

“It resonates with what we do. Grilling of any sort and the flavors that are going to be moved over to the grill are not necessarily associated with a typical barbecue sauce. The flavors are international and just about anything that you can think of that maybe would not have been a grill flavor in the past, now is.”


Commissary demand up

Excalibur has meat processor customers who fit into the commissary category. One customer in particular, Brewer said, will pitch a flavor profile and a protein that’s pre-marinated or a seasoning or pre-stuffed product to a retail group. The customer will then often look to Excalibur for new flavors they can use in their pitches.

“That business is growing, especially with the labor challenges at the store level,” he said. “Processors can present a program that looks like it’s store-made. It makes them more inclusive to particular retailers.”

Excalibur also works extensively with retailers who have their own commissary operations, customizing the flavors and production batches to match what retailers are doing internally, Andorfer said.

“This makes it easier for the commissaries to produce the special item that they want.”

Other retailers that don’t have an in-house commissary, he added, collaborate with meat companies that Excalibur has worked with, take a category and specialize it for the retailers’ particular needs.

“One of our specialties is coordinating those opportunities where the supermarket group may not have the personnel and the investment in a commissary,” Andorfer said. “We can facilitate for them to work with key processors.”

Excalibur has even gone to the extent of making flavor presentations to the retailer and suggestions for the commissary that they could use, Brewer added.

There are a number of companies that do this, partnering with the smaller entities to specialize in a certain line, Andorfer said.

“It’s been growing consistently over the past couple of years. The biggest factor to growth in this area is the labor. When you can’t get it in the store, we have the ability to work with processors and minimize the instore labor investment.”

Labor will continue to be the issue for the next 18 months to two years, he added. Creating custom programs with that fact front and center will be important to all of Excalibur’s retailer and supplier partners.

“Our staff understands the retail side and labor challenges. Knowing how to put programs together that can work with a minimal amount of labor will be key. I think part of it is keeping programs simple and not creating a program that takes chef- like skills or the equipment that’s associated with it.”

Product prep should be a two- to three-step process and no more, and Excalibur has programs capable of meeting just that need, Brewer added.