If anything good came of the COVID-19 pandemic for Cargill Protein, it may have been the growth in popularity of its Castle Wood Reserve line of packaged deli meats.

Castle Wood Reserve, which Cargill describes as a “premium sliced deli solution for the meat department” that “offers consumers the same quality deli meat they expect from the full-service case” comes in the following varieties:

  • Smokey honey turkey breast
  • Uncured honey ham
  • Angus seasoned roast beef
  • Virginia brand uncured ham
  • Oven roasted turkey breast
  • Oven roasted chicken breast
  • Turkey pastrami
  • Four pepper turkey breast

Citing Nielsen data, Tom Windish, president of Cargill Protein’s retail channel, said Castle Wood Reserve leads the packaged lunchmeat category in growth, with he brand up 550%, compared to the average of all other brands, which is an increase of 3.3%.

Windish said there were several consumer trends Cargill noticed during the COVID-19 pandemic. One was a desire for a better product that gave consumers consistent quality. The other was consumers were eating at home more, and Castle Wood Reserve’s package size was appealing.

“That translated into a lot of momentum with retail customers,” said Windish. “They saw the value in it. It’s working. It’s the No. 1 growing brand in deli today in the United States, and we’re excited to be able to offer that to our customers.”

The brand’s supply chain

The brand sources most of its turkey and beef through its own network, Windish said, and the processing and slicing of the Castle Wood Reserve products are done at Cargill’s value-added meat plant in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

The pandemic caused some supply chain issues for other meat and poultry plants, and Windish acknowledged that the Castle Wood Reserve brand experienced some challenges as well, but Cargill kept a close eye on every step along the supply chain, and the investments that were made paid off.

“Always evaluate your network for efficiencies, and ask what you can do to keep that product on the shelves,” he said.

Windish said the company “worked hard to make sure people were safe” regarding COVID-19, which contributed to the fact that the Nebraska City plant did not have to halt production.

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Maintaining momentum

As the severity of the pandemic continues to ease and many consumers are eating out more than they were during the pandemic’s earlier stages, Cargill Protein leaders are optimistic the Castle Wood Reserve line will maintain its popularity.

During the Annual Meat Conference, held virtually on March 22-25, predicting which consumer trends will change and what will remain was a common topic of discussion as consumers get more comfortable with eating out, Windish noted. That is a topic on Windish’s mind, but he isn’t worried about it.

“We also believe people have picked up cooking skills,” he said. “They’ve been experimenting, and in this case, with sandwich builds. We don’t think that just goes away, and that value equation of ‘hey, I can provide my family with a nice option with Castle Wood meats versus going to, perhaps, a sub shop,’ is not forgotten after COVID.”

Hilary Gerard, Cargill Protein director of brand and marketing, agrees. She said they have been keeping an eye on not only brand penetration, but also brand loyalty. 

And what they are finding out is that once consumers are familiar with the brand, they have identified it as one they don’t want to live without.

“The product is proving itself,” she said.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.