As consumers become increasingly knowledgeable about the foods they eat, meat and poultry companies are presented with opportunities to introduce new products to the market that highlight the health benefits of consuming animal proteins. This was the message from speakers Lynn Dornblaser, director, innovation and insight, Mintel, and Jerry Kelly, national retail account manager, Sealed Air’s Food Care division, at the “Best New Products & Consumer Trends” session on Tuesday, January 27 at the 2015 International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE). 

According to Dornblaser, new product introductions in the U.S. for meal and meat categories have been steady in the last five years, with some growth in meat products, especially in the further processing category (see figure). In 2015, private label will account for almost 25 percent of the new product introductions as “retailers are more and more active in private label,” said Dornblaser. This leaves much opportunity for poultry companies to try entering the market with new products that meet consumers’ changing demands. 

Consumers continue to define what “healthy” means to them, and the industry must respond with products that meet these criteria. Dornblaser said consumers don’t want “less” in their food because they aren’t on a diet; instead, they want to be provided with “more” food that provides the needed health benefits for their lifestyle. Dornblaser pointed out that this leaves opportunity for meat and poultry companies to help consumers understand what is in their food package.

For example, the advantages of protein consumption are being talked about around the world. But while foods that contain animal protein substitutes promote these on the label with buzzwords like “high in” and “added,” the meat and poultry industry has not followed suit in advertising the protein benefits in their products.  

A survey by Mintel found that 80 percent of consumers look for some type of nutritional information on the packaging, making it key for companies to be transparent with “clean” labels. These consumers want to know exactly what is in their food, where it came from and what nutritional benefits it contains. This is leading to growth in the number of companies talking about the ingredients in their products. Examples given by Dornblaser show that potential for meat and poultry companies may lie in promoting “less processed” ingredients, explaining each ingredient in the product and why it is there, or showing exactly from which country or region each ingredient is sourced.

Further, Dornblaser noted that consumers are looking for convenience in their meal preparation but still want a home-cooked taste. Consumers who would rather enjoy meal time than settle for ready-made substitutions are looking for complete meal products that help save preparation time but still provide full flavor. Meat and poultry companies must recognize the value in not only offering a discount product, but also in providing a premium product for a premium price; for example, meal-prep kits that include nearly all ingredients, cut or chopped up, or products with packaging that is easily resealable and keeps food fresh as long as possible.

Kelly re-emphasized this, saying that an average of 3.8 meals per week feature a meat or poultry item. Among consumers who changed their meat and poultry purchasing habits within the last year, 36 percent increased their spending – meaning consumers are willing to purchase at a higher price point if it means getting a high-quality product with the nutritional benefits and taste they desire. 

Although there are many opportunities for new products in the meat and poultry industry, Dornblaser noted it can be a challenge to get buyers to embrace these new products and make them successful when they come to market. The industry can, however, engage consumers in research and development to introduce new products that successfully meet consumers’ demands. The Internet presents an excellent opportunity for companies to find out exactly what consumers are looking for, as well as to market the new products and their advantages. Social media channels offer the possibility of not only crowd sourcing, but also providing valuable content that supplements new products, such as cooking demonstration tutorials. Further, online sales can help companies in a very niche market reach their desired customers worldwide.

Dornblaser offered this summary for meat and poultry companies: “Healthy or not, low-cost or not, adaptable or not: Consumers actually do want it all. Your challenge is to offer them choice.”