The value-added protein subcategory is evolving with the times.
You don’t have to go far in the fresh perimeter to see the intersections of retail and foodservice, value and premium, and flavorful and familiar. Value-added meat, poultry and seafood products reflect consumer demand for products that meet their tastes and lifestyles.
Pre-portioned, pre-seasoned and pre-marinated proteins have been around for a while, but the value-added protein subcategory is evolving with the times. For example, as foodservice inflation continues to outpace grocery inflation, consumers are looking to recreate restaurant experiences at home.
People are better at that, too, having honed their cooking skills during the pandemic and remote-work era. According to the 2023 “Power of Meat” study published by FMI — The Food Industry Association and the North American Meat Institute, purchases of value-added meats have risen “dramatically” over the past few years. In 2020, 60% of consumers said that they sometimes or frequently bought pre-marinated, pre-cut or pre-seasoned meat — a base that jumped to 73% in 2022.
Rikki Ingram, director of fresh meats marketing at Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, says that such data affirms the value of value-added offerings. “The 2023 ‘Power of Meat’ study showed that value-added engagement and sales are on a multiyear growth path — so the demand is not slowing down,” observes Ingram. “This demand is driving not only volume growth of the category, but also innovation that meets consumers’ demands of convenience, flavor and simplifying their lives.”
This sentiment is shared by Michael Uetz, principal at Chicago-based Midan Marketing and a longtime meat industry and marketing pro. “Value-added meat products have been gaining in popularity for several years,” affirms Uetz, also citing the latest “Power of Meat” report. “Nearly three-quarters of shoppers are purchasing these products. This is double what it was just seven years ago.”
Tyson has added a seasoned pork griller steak, novel to the category in both format and flavor.
The Meaning of Value
While the category is clearly expanding, so is the definition of value. For example, although fresh meat prices are coming down from their highs, the ongoing inflationary environment means that value encompasses the price-value proposition.
“Value means more than just price, so for more cost-conscious consumers, we’re seeing they’re interested in buying in bulk and stretching that protein across several meals,” notes Ingram. “Blended proteins, such as a ground-beef-and-pork blend that has a familiar flavor profile while capturing some cost savings, are also popular with this consumer.”
Value also takes the form of having help in the kitchen, including, but not limited to, time-saving attributes. “Alongside this, consumers have moved from primarily cooking from scratch to using a mix of prepared and scratch-made elements in their meals,” says Uetz.
Ingram echoes the fact that today’s meat buyers are mixing it up a bit and seeking ease, but also some buy-in and bragging rights. “The key is infusing enough culinary creativity that home cooks can get a jump-start on their meal, but with enough versatility that they can make the seasoned/marinated items their own,” she asserts.
Bacon adds another layer of pork flavor to this pre-marinated tenderloin from Prairie Fresh's Signature line.
Value-added offerings, then, look a little different from how they did even a few years ago. “In addition to the traditional pre-marinated and pre-seasoned products, we have started seeing more products that are meat-vegetable blends in this space,” observes Uetz.
He offers other examples of innovation in this space. “New proteins are entering the mix, like pre-seasoned lamb leg from Walmart’s Marketside Butcher,” says Uetz. “We’ve also seen full sandwich kits, with all the ingredients for a Chicago-style beef sandwich or a Philly cheesesteak. These options offer flavorful, innovative meal solutions for shoppers looking for a quick meal.”
Tyson, for its part, is working on new types of value-added items, including those in different formats. “Other examples of innovations outside of sliced, diced and cubed protein or pre-seasoned and -marinated meats include innovation with various cuts of meat,” notes Ingram. “For example, we introduced a boneless pork loin griller steak last spring that is causing a disruption with its unique shape and tender eating experience. Ranch steak, also known as pub steak, is another cut that we have been exploring lately. It’s from the chuck and cooks up well after marinating.”
The current crop of value-added proteins also reflects consumers’ growing taste for bold and global flavors. For instance, the Signature line, from the Prairie Fresh division of Seaboard Foods, includes a boneless pork shoulder roast dry-rubbed with carnitas seasoning, and a honey sriracha-seasoned pork filet, among other items.
“Our team responded to the increased demand for spicy foods by introducing Prairie Fresh Signature Honey Sriracha tenderloin to retail, which brings a unique and exciting flavor profile for adventurous appetites,” affirms Emma Pierce, brand manager for Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based Seaboard Foods.
Other value-added cuts integrate prep and cooking steps. The Prairie Fresh portfolio includes a cook-in-bag line, with varieties like a pork loin filet with applewood bacon. Tyson also has a cook-in-bag pork product that can be customized with the addition of a favorite sauce.
Fully cooked meats fall under the value-added umbrella, too, and there are plenty of examples of innovation in this subcategory. Westminster, Colo.-based Niman Ranch, for example, touts a heat-and-serve line including grass-fed Angus pulled beef, applewood-smoked pulled pork, pulled pork with barbecue sauce, and half and full slabs of St. Louis-style pork ribs with barbecue sauce.
As grocers partner with suppliers to fill their cases with branded value-added products, they are also creating value in-house for proteins in their service cases, at their butcher counters or included in their store-brand programs.
“Grocers themselves are also entering this space,” says Uetz. “Many retailers have started to offer a wider variety of prepared meals, meal kits and chef-prepared meals in their stores. From H-E-B Fresh Bites to Fresh to Table from ShopRite, offering one-stop shopping for a full meal is becoming more and more popular.”
Indeed, many food retailers are getting inventive with format and flavor in the value-added space. Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Market, for instance, sells a ready-to-cook organic lime cilantro boneless skinless chicken breast, while the collection of value-added meats from Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market includes a pineapple teriyaki “no antibiotics ever” chicken thigh.