Today’s consumers are looking to recreate restaurant-quality meals at home with trending flavors, while being mindful of their budgets. That’s why seasoned and marinated meats are growing in popularity at the supermarket.

Chris Mentzer, director of operations at Rastelli Market Fresh in Marlton and Deptford, N.J., noted that stores have seen massive growth in prepared meats the past 12 months, including marinated and seasoned options.

“The increased cost of groceries has made it very cost effective for customers to buy products that are already seasoned,” he said. “This eliminates the extra spend for marinades and seasonings that they normally would have to buy. The focus for most of our customers during this inflation period is how they can stretch the dollar and put more in their shopping carts. The small increase in price for seasoned meats is far cheaper than if you had to buy all the components separately.”

Dana Ehrlich, CEO and founder of Verde Farms, a Woburn, Mass.-based company that supplies organic and grass-fed beef, noted that with today’s busy lifestyles, convenience is key at the supermarket, so pre-seasoned meats that require minimal preparation are naturally on the rise.

“Retailers and manufacturers are taking convenience one step further by offering pre-marinated meats allowing home cooks to create delicious meals without spending too much time on preparation,” he said. “Additionally, with inflation pressures, eating out at restaurants is becoming more expensive, making cooking at home a more affordable option.”

Trending up

Cody Masters, vice president of culinary and executive chef for Everson Spice Co. and Lynn’s Foods, Signal Hill, Calif., noted one of the things he sees more and more of is taking sweet and savory combinations, and sweet and spicy combinations, in layering flavors.

Knowing that you can’t underestimate the TikTok generation, he has made up two words—“swavery” and “swicey”—and these combinations are what resonates with younger meat buyers.

“I’m combining two comfortable flavors that they are going to be interested in, and will immediately evoke intrigue,” he said. “I always try to lead with one’s eyes before the mouth, and that comes from building the colors or definition of a seasoning blend or marinade, as it is to what it’s actually named. Names are just as important.”

Alicja Spaulding, chief marketing officer for Rastelli Foods Group, a global food processor and distributor based in Swedesboro, N.J., agreed that convenience is a big consideration, as marinated and seasoned meats are ready to cook right out of the packaging so there is no preparation work involved except for pairing the meat with a starch, veggie, or both.

“We’ve seen a notable trend in consumers seeking marinated meats made with natural and more wholesome ingredients,” she said. “Consumers want better-for-you options that resemble more of a homemade marinade that typically would be free of artificial ingredients or flavors, low sodium, and have no added sugar. They want products that have similar ingredients to what they would use if they made marinated or seasoned the meat at home from scratch.”

Evolving flavors

While flavors are starting to branch out some, many still focus on the more common flavors found in restaurants and the grocery shelves. Still, the inclusion of marinades and rubs does provide a means of helping to ensure a good quality eating experience for consumers.

Steve Wald, executive director of culinary innovation and partnerships for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, noted there are many popular and newer seasoning blends for consumers to apply themselves, but in the fresh meat case, he is seeing topically seasoned grilling and roasting cuts of beef, along with pre-seasoned ground beef hamburgers being enjoyed by consumers.

“The seasoned meats usually add grilling flavor so steakhouse and Montreal seasonings are very popular for fresh ground beef patties,” he said. “Regarding marinated cuts of beef, teriyaki and fajita/carne asada flavors are predominant. Stir fried beef using teriyaki marinades is also very popular.”

He added that newer flavors for marinated beef cuts include bulgogi, cracked peppercorn, bourbon and black pepper, and chimichurri.

In terms of basic borderline flavors, Masters sees Meyer lemon marmalade as continuing to be popular, though consumers are looking for innovative and fun new ways to use the citrus flavor.

“One thing you can’t escape right now is hot honey, and that ties back to the ‘swicey’ mechanism,” Masters said. “Black garlic is another flavor gaining traction, and major retailers are going to be offering this a lot more in the months ahead.”

Tyler Shepke, R&D manager and certified food scientist for Excalibur Seasoning, Pekin, Ill., noted that people are flocking to the meat counter to get a great cut of meat that is already pre-seasoned or marinated so that all that is needed is to cook the meal.

“Trending flavors are favoring traditional combinations with the addition of an added flare, such as spicy honey or ancho BBQ,” he said. “A traditional flavor profile with an added or highlighted additional touch. You are not going too far out on a limb, while still being experimental and taking advantage of the push for healthy added ingredients, to boot.”

The lingering impact of the pandemic has consumers even more hungry for flavor exploration in 2023 that can work for both familiar and lesser-known flavor profiles.

“There was strong momentum a few years ago where people were not just wanting to try things that were considered large geographical cuisines, but more regional based cuisines, flavor profiles, and ingredients,” Shepke said. “Instead of Mexican, you would have an emphasis on regional aspects or ingredients that make up Mexican cuisine such as ancho, guajillo, or poblano peppers. This rang true and still does in 2023.”

Some trending flavor profiles for sauces, dressings and marinades that he has noticed this year include sweet and spicy, such as spicy honey, mango and chamoy, and Thai chili & honey; citrus and tropical flavors, such as yuzu, mint, and dragon fruit; botanical and floral fusions, such as elderflower, hibiscus, rose, wild fennel and dandelion greens; and regional BBQ with a fusion twist, such as, Texas, Memphis, Alabama, Carolina, and Kansas City BBQ fused and highlighted with specific spices/flavors from other cuisines like cardamon, tajin, alcohols, and chili peppers.

Rastelli Foods Group has noticed a trend towards international flavors that haven’t been mainstream in the past.

“Consumers are increasingly seeking out unique and exotic flavors from different parts of the world like Middle Eastern za’atar, Korean gochujang, and Indian curry, as well as specific regions with countries like Tuscany in Italy or Oaxaca in Mexico,” Spaulding said. “These flavors add depth and variety to the taste profile of meat dishes, providing a rich and satisfying culinary experience.”

With supply chain disruptions during COVID, Ehrlich noted that people were forced to buy what was available, leading to a shift towards more exotic cuts and flavors.

“Traditionally popular cuts such as strip steaks, filets, and sirloins became scarce, and consumers started exploring different types of meats for braising, smoking, and marinating,” he said. “This situation has created a lot of opportunity for experimentation, and some of these new flavor profiles have stuck with consumers.”

In addition, as people spend more time cooking at home, they are looking for more variety in their meals. This has led to an increased demand for unique and interesting flavor combinations in meats.

“While there has been a shift towards more exotic cuts and flavors, it’s important to note that standard flavors such as teriyaki and steakhouse still represent a majority of sales,” Ehrlich said. “These traditional flavors are a staple in the industry and will likely continue to be popular among consumers.”

New and improved

The Rastelli Foods Group team places great emphasis on market research and consumer insights, utilizing both syndicated data and primary research to guide its decision making. In 2022, the company identified a growing demand in the market for ready-to-cook marinated meats featuring international flavors. As a result, the marketing and R&D teams have been collaborating to develop an entire product line that caters to this trend.

“We’re proud to announce the upcoming launch of Rastelli’s World Kitchen Collection, which will be available in fresh, case-ready packaging in both roll stock and MAP formats,” Spaulding said. “Some of the exciting flavors we’re planning to release include Saffron Moroccan Lamb and Brazilian Churrasco Pork Loin.”

John Brewer, vice president of sales and marketing for Excalibur Seasoning, noted consumers want simple, easy to prepare, flavorful cuts and marinated meats check all the boxes, particularly when vacuum tumbled as the flavor penetrates the muscle.

“Even if slightly overcooked, product remains juicy, and flavor does not dissipate during cooking, creating a restaurant experience at home,” he said. “Consumers are also more likely to try something new if it’s already pre-seasoned or marinated vs. gathering ingredients needed to do it themselves.”

Successful seasoned and marinated programs create a restaurant quality experience for the home cook and leads to better sales.

Commissary insider

As a provider of seasoned and marinated meats to commissaries and central kitchens, Rastelli Foods Group has observed a prevalent challenge in securing adequate labor to meet market demands.

“High turnover rates and limited availability of labor have become common concerns for these facilities,” Rastelli’s Alicja Spaulding explained. “As a trusted partner to our customers, we strive to offer personalized options that are operationally efficient and easy to execute. We are also mindful of minimizing waste and spoilage by providing smaller pack sizes and ensuring ease of use. Our aim is to deliver marinated and seasoned meats that not only cater to the diverse needs of consumers but also provide operational convenience to our valued partners.”