The last few years have no doubt had a major influence over consumer shopping habits as well as manufacturing capabilities, as we’ve lived through lockdowns, conflict and inflationary pressures. Here, Food Manufacture hears from several experts within the sector as they reflect on the implications these times have had on the sausage, burger and food forming market.
Commenting on the past year, Simon Coles, group sales manager at The Dalesman Group, said: “Manufacturers in the sausage and burger channel have experienced increases in the cost of energy to manufacture, while meat costs have risen substantially and the cost of the all-important seasonings – which is what often gives the point of difference to these lines – have also increased dramatically. Passing these costs onto retailers is never an easy task, with many finding they need to diversify into other channels.”
Are premium sausages and burgers still winning?
During lockdowns, with the out-of-home sector off limits, premium sausages and burgers saw huge growth. However, according to Coles, this trend has been turned on its head, with this category’s sales declining in light of inflation.
“This change has been reflected by the likes of Heck Food which is well-known for its premium Chicken and 97% Pork Sausage offering, yet this year launched a more mainstream sausage with a much lower meat content,” he stated.
“All that been said, many consumers are still interested in the high welfare offering, as well as understanding more about the provenance of their food, meat and associated ingredients. Brands such as Edwards of Conwy, Westaway Sausages and Jolly Hog have all seen their products offered to a wider audience, now available in retailers outside of their traditional geography.”
Looking for a point of difference
Cole added that while manufacturing has been pressed to keep up with changing consumer habits and inflationary price increases, the high street butcher and farm shops are seeing a renewed interest and a new generation of shoppers “looking for a point of difference” and a keen interest in food origin.
“As a result, many have added new flavours to their counters such as ‘Chip Shop Curry Sausages’, for which the consumer is happy to pay the associated cost.”
Chantelle Brennand of Innovative Food Ingredients (IFI) agrees that flavour has been really interesting area to watch in sausages and burgers.
Global fusion inspires
“Meat retailers are responding to customer demand for continental cuisine, fusion inspirations and spicier blends. Both burger and sausage products are therefore experiencing a period of significant development with a host of global flavours and recipes, including meat-free options.
“Retailers are responding nimbly to their ever-more discerning customer bases in the provision of a greater variety of flavours and ‘mouthfeel’ attributes, including indulgent sauces and ingredient pairings.”
The market for burgers has perhaps seen a wider level of diversification, according to the IFI, and this might be a result of their ‘indulgence’. While sausages are more of a weekly staple, burgers are often regarded as a treat and therefore lend themselves more easily to creativity.
Popular global influences making an impact on this category include Japanese inspired Teriyaki, lamb tikka masala, chilli cheese beef or pork and chorizo Manchego burgers.
For sausages, best buys feature jalapeno and Red Leicester sausages, honey and mustard, caramelised onion, and pork and leek, IFI told Food Manufacture.
Plant-based along with flexitarian burgers and sausages have also been a focus for many manufacturers. However, as Cole noted, even this has seen a “change of focus in recent months due to the cost-of-living crisis”.
Consequently, “teams are now being briefed to review their offering based on cost engineered versions to try and offset the inflation across the category”.
Sausage casing – natural vs collagen
“Sausage casing is a subject that comes up more often with the debate on natural vs. collagen being seen in both manufacturing as well as retail butchers. Manufacturing has often favoured collagen skins, for their constancy and ease of use,” Coles said.
Indeed, natural casings will often have an irregular shape making stuffing them more complex, with certain casings like sheep intestine being extremely delicate to work with.1
“However, many [manufacturers] are now looking back at the natural option, which is often favoured as the traditional choice by many retail butchers,” he explained. “Essentially, manufacturing is looking to replicate what the consumer is now buying from the butcher as opposed to the retailers.”
According to the Bearded Butchers, natural casings boast a few advantages, including that they allow better permeation of smoke flavour and the use of a by-product that would generally be wasted.
Saying this, the butcher recognises that some customers may still prefer collagen, deterred by the source of natural casing (i.e. intestines).1
The trend for ‘natural’ is also a factor which Brennand nodded to, noting that many are still interested in pursuing flexitarian diets and that attributes such as natural casings and ethically reared as well as named breeds are sought-out qualities.
She also pointed to the upward demand for healthier products. In fact, Allied Market Research2 states that the low-fat sausage market is on the rise, projected to grow from $2.5bn in 2021 to $4.8bn by 2031.
The analysts highlight online food delivery platforms as a key contributor to rising low-fat sausage sales during lockdown. Allied Market Research also flags the global trend of ‘clean label’, with consumers seeking products with recognisable ingredients. As such, manufacturers have been leaning towards ingredients that do not just offer high performance but that also tout simple ingredients sourced from low-processed foods.2
But as Brennan suggested, as we see burgers and sausages evolve to meet demands it is “vital we continue to find the best production methods to maximise succulence and provide a genuinely meaty bite in terms of taste, feel and texture”.
Technology in food forming
Expanding on this notion, Cole also raised the progression of technology, as food and beverage factors stumble their way (cautiously) into the digital era. “Although the technology for making sausages and burgers has not really changed, other areas being explored include lab grown or 3D printed meat as we move to a more sustainable society.
“These technologies are still in their infancy and not fully understood yet. Not to mention they are sometimes used for the strangest of projects.”
One example Coles gave was Vow, a company focused on alternative meat in a different way – not just cultured meat, but cultured meat we don’t conventionally eat, including the long-extinct mammoth! The mammoth was picked for this project as a symbol of loss, as the company pushed the message of diet-related climate change home.
While Redefine Meat is experimenting with plant-based ingredients for meat alternatives using AI to optimise and 3D printing to manufacture. In 2019 it raised $6m (£4.8m) which it used to finalise its alt-meat 3D printer.
“Until recently, the alternative meat industry has focused on the attempt to replicate minced beef or similar products with uniform consistency,” Redefine Meat describes on its website. “3D printing uniquely enables the production of exact formations that can duplicate the muscle and fat structures found in cuts of meat that are fundamental to the pleasurable sensations experienced when eating meat, particularly, whole-muscle cuts.”
It also offers the flexibility of shape, size and combinations of fat and muscle “without having to retool or reset the machines”.
At the most recent FoodEx, delegates were spoiled with glossy machinery within packaging and preparation, among other tools. This included more conventional but nevertheless impressive systems.
The Reiser stand (see video above) had a wide variety of demos on the show including the DJM VF06, a VacForm plate forming machine capable of creating an array of shapes (dinosaurs were a special feature of day two), as well as other technology able to precisely portion and link sausages, and another which cased, crimped and stacked them neatly into trays.
“All in all, it continues to be an interesting time for the industry,” Coles said. “With consumers now trading their steak for burgers, as the cost-of-living crisis hits their pockets, there is still a lot of growth to be unlocked in the channel.”