Digital feature: Sausages, casings, burgers & food forming

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

As barbecue season approaches, are meat processors prepared for a nation eager to get outside after lockdown?
As barbecue season approaches, are meat processors prepared for a nation eager to get outside after lockdown?

Related tags Meat & Seafood

While retail growth in sausage and burger sales in 2020 has eased, they remain above 2019 figures, so the market is in a strong position going into a traditionally busy season.

According to the latest statistics from levy board AHDB, in the 52 weeks to 18 April, volume sales of pork sausages climbed by 10%, while value sales grew by 15% to £826.6m. Over the 12 weeks to the same date, volume and value sales fell by 5%, but were still up 12% in volume on the equivalent period in 2019.

Volume sales for burgers and grills in the 52 weeks to 18 April rose by 20.9% year-on-year and value sales for burgers increased even more strongly by 26.3% to £441.5m. Comparing the same 12-week periods, volume growth stood at 2.4% and value growth at 8.3%.

There’s no denying that such products received a huge lockdown boost as consumers turned away from out-of-home and food-to-go channels to home and scratch cooking.

As warmer weather sets in, meat processors are looking to market their products to consumers hungry for barbecued meat.

“It’s the time of year when we see a spike in the sales of sausages and burgers, as families and friends get together to enjoy food and drinks in the sunshine,” ​says Pilgrim’s Pride site director for Dalehead Foods, Linton, Zaggy Zachairou.

“We’re expecting this to be even bigger this year as people make the most of restrictions on social gatherings easing in the summer months.”

To meet this upcoming demand, the company says it has invested in machinery and automation across all its lines, while maintaining high standards and quality.

While demand is expected to rise along with the temperature, Pilgrim’s Pride has observed that consumers aren’t just looking for a standard sausage to throw on the ‘Barbie’.

Pilgrim's Pride and demand

The future of meat is focused on high-quality as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, says Zachairou. He claims there’s a growing expectation – particularly related to more premium products – that sausages will be made with entirely natural products, including natural casings.

“We continue to innovate to provide solutions that will help our retail partners stay ahead of consumers’ rapidly evolving wants and needs, exploring new solutions while maintaining the qualities that we know consumers love,” ​he added.

“For example, we have developed an alginate casing which is formed predominantly using seaweed. Our formula has been honed to deliver the ideal texture and consistency every time, providing the satisfying snap of a perfectly grilled sausage, with positive feedback from customers and consumers alike.

“The casings also boast strong sustainability credentials which really resonates with consumers. We are beginning to roll this out across a selection of products as part of our commitment to innovation and looking for sustainable food solutions.”

The Food People 2021 trends

In a recent overview of the top 10 trends for 2021, The Food People identified alfresco dining as the eighth top trend of the year.

“Al fresco is gaining a positive association with that transition to the new post-COVID normal. Temperatures rise and weather improves for summer. Barbecue is very much hot for all the reasons I've talked about,” ​said co-founder Charles Banks.

“Following that focus on craft and fire, cooking and foodservice, many supplies of cooking equipment and furniture are already this season reporting out-of-stocks. Forget barbecue stereotypes, we're talking about kits that are sourced from artisan butchers or restaurants famed for their brisket or expertly blended marinades as well as desserts cooked over fire.”

British Meat Processing Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen reinforces Zachairou’s outlook for meat products over the summer. He predicts the strain of lockdown has left consumers itching to get outdoors and start gathering for barbecues.

According to Allen, meat processors are expecting demand to be as good, if not better, than last year, reinforced by particularly strong sales of traditional summer favourites as people embrace home and outdoor cooking.

“As long as the weather improves, we expect 2021 to be just as good,”​ said Allen. “According to figures published in March by retailers like Asda and B&Q, sales of barbecues and outdoor furniture rocketed as people prepare to entertain family and friends at home.

“This strong domestic demand is most welcome, particularly as overall sales are still down considerably due to the loss of some of our trade with the EU since we left the single market.

“Unfortunately, major barriers to exports still persist, and it’s now clear that they can no longer be classed as ‘teething problems’.”

Fastest growing grocery products

Four out of the top five grocery products by value in 2020* were meat.

Beef 502124464



Actual growth (£ millions) 

Value % Rise














Stella Artois







*According to Nielsen

Brexit-related issues bleed into the everyday life of the consumer, especially when it comes to where to go on holiday.

While Brits can finally enjoy meeting in larger groups and visiting some of their favourite restaurants, their ability to take a vacation overseas is limited. Even visiting some of our closer neighbours, such as France and Spain remain off limits while travel bans remain in place.


As such, the great British public is expected to look to staycation within the UK, whether that means weeks off work at home or the next county over. Unsurprisingly, this will boost the demand for barbecue meat products as consumers opt to invite friends over or self-cater while away.

With this in mind, Interfood claims there will be an increasing role for automation in the production of barbecue products. Manufacturers aiming to reduce labour, improve product consistency, flavour and quality and enhance shelf-appeal in what is a very competitive market would do well to invest in such areas, it says.

“One of the most popular machines supplied by Interfood into this sector is the very flexible ABM PRO Series Pre-duster manufactured by ALCO,”​ an Interfood spokesman adds.

“It’s designed to apply coating to a product, from fine powdered ingredients to breadcrumb. So it’s widely used in adding powdered marinades, spices and other flavourings to a range of BBQ meats, from kebabs and steaks to portioned chicken and burgers.”

A two-belt system ensures a complete and even coating, enhanced by the Pre-duster’s adjustable speed (belt speeds of up to 29m/min), pressing, vibration and blower system.

Processors producing a variety of meat product shapes, including burgers now have also access to Marel's new RevoPortioner 1000, a compact machine offering increased volume and speed for less floor space.

(pic for Page 1) Burgers on rack

Shaped meats

The RevoPortioner 1000 is the newest advancement in Marel's low-pressure forming solutions. It is designed to improve on previous generations of the RevoPortioner, combining innovative new features to give convenience food processors substantial benefits.

These include a wider 1,000mm (40") forming width and higher speed to increase output significantly and innovative technology ensuring products are always consistent in shape and weight across the entire belt width.

Improved air release also optimizes ejection from the forming drum ensuring texture and integrity are unmatched.

The machine reduces footprint when compared to a two-machine set up producing similar volumes, saving a considerable amount of valuable factory floor space.
Marel claims the advanced technology and robust design behind the RevoPortioner 1000 ensures an incredibly low level of leakage—less than 0.3%.

Substantial consistency in product shape and weight reduce rework by approximately 50% and use of significantly fewer cooling agents and 40% less compressed air compared to previous solutions cur waste, energy and resource consumption, Marel claims.

Consumer habits help sausage maker thrive

Sausage maker Porky Whites has bounced back from administration following a management buyout and a boost in sales thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the lockdown spurring more consumers to cook at home, retail sausage sales spiked and Porky Whites’s retail sales soared by 30%. It has been able to grow its online store to deliver direct to more consumers than ever before.

The supplier was given three-day payment terms from two of the biggest supermarkets to ensure there was no disruption to food supply. Trade back to butchers also increased and it received more orders from the catering market. 

Now in a stable position, the manufacturer has hired additional staff and secure funding from a third party to invest in machinery. The company is working with a Department for International Trade adviser on export opportunities in the United Arab Emirates and has secured a growth management grant. 

Managing director Fran Wyatt said: “The world is changing and in response to that Porky Whites is adapting. Looking at how to adapt to consumer needs and working closely with the catering industry is bringing new unique product lines to market.”

Whatever the outlook for 2021, it seems quite clear that meat and meat products will play a major role in consumers’ eating experiences. With sales of sausages and burgers lifted by a bumper year in 2020, it remains to be seen if that same momentum will continue into the world of post-lockdown Britain.

What’s certain is there’s a demand for the public for meat occasions and it only takes processors to reach out and grab the opportunity.

Related topics Meat, poultry & seafood Operations

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