The purpose of this article is combining some of the visible world-wide trends and highlighting these trends to the North American market. The author hopes it will help companies and individuals in the meat industry to discover new ways of producing healthy, wholesome protein products in an efficient and ethical manner.

Changes in consumer buying habits effecting value-added products

Trends, Opportunities and Challenges for Meat CompaniesConsumers are selecting meat/meat products very carefully and are buying only small amounts. The reason for this is less related to buying power, but more about the amount they need for the next couple days. Instead of large roasts and steaks only small amounts are purchased. Here is a great opportunity to offer smaller portioned meat products in reseal-able and attractive packages. The convenience of food products is of great importance, too.

In addition to that, the consumer is looking for ethical, healthy, value –added products which not only satisfy the hunger, but also contribute to a healthier lifestyle. ‘GMO free, Organic, Natural, Green House Gas, biodegradable packaging, clean label, convenient and most important animal welfare’ are buzz words which every company should look at and act accordingly.

Consumers are increasingly using social networks as a sales channel - looking for offers, promotions and events and ways to communicate with others about products. This is a growing trend. Brick and mortar stores need to be aware of this. In traditional stores, customer communication and meat product presentation are dominated by a rational approach. Shops nowadays provide too little inspiration. Innovative new store developments are necessary. Meat and food retail stores need to be inviting, bright, innovative and modern.

Innovation

For companies in the meat industry it is vital to innovate if they want to stay in the market place. Innovation and flexibility is the answer to changing consumer trends. Companies need to look at a variety of products and packaging sizes, but also at innovation in their process facilities. The supplier industry in the last couple of years has come out with new high-tech machines with greater efficiency. If you are working with smokehouses, stuffing and blending equipment which is 25 years old, then it will be very difficult for you to reach your numbers. Innovation in equipment, process, energy saving and also innovation in training of employees is always necessary for a successful company.

The meat industry will buy high- tech machines in greater numbers. This will require employees which are well-trained and receive a living wage. Is it time for an extended apprenticeship system like in Europe? This can only be achieved if industry and governments work together.

Safety & Resource Management

In the meat industry it is vital to produce safe and hygienic products. Lots of innovations have been made in the last couple of years. One key trend is the hygienic design of machinery and plants. Machines need to be designed in such a way that they are easy to clean and where no product residue can nest. This will help to reduce the microbiological risk. All new high-tech equipment can electronically be linked to offices and further help with monitoring and inspecting.

A responsible approach to resources is imperative and will be a Mega Trend. We need to produce safe products with as little waste as possible and saving resources at the same time. Many companies already have programs in place to save water, cleaning material, and energy. The optimization of energy consumption in the plant will be of great importance in the next coming decades. Waste water regeneration is just one of the big trends which companies are now looking at.

Automation

Automation is an ongoing trend in the meat industry. The level of automation is much lower than in other industries. This is because of the different characteristics of meat. Automation is not only related to saving money, but also to improving hygiene in production, as well as improving work conditions. The trend of increased portion and fixed weight products asks for efficient processing and packaging lines.

Robot-aided automation is becoming more important. Thanks to the robot’s speed flexibility and precision and most importantly - repeat accuracy - they will be key elements for greater efficiency. For example, in smokehouses they will take over hanging and transferring the smoke sticks with strings and sausages which will save time and personnel. The process will be faster, more accurate and more hygienic.

More and more robots/automation will also be used for inline fat analysis - going away from the old Soxhlet process and using the new DEXA process.  

Premium Charcuterie and Premium Product Lines

The meat industry is also focusing more on Premium Charcuterie & Sausage Lines which have a regional character or added functional benefits. Hormel buying Applegate Sausage in the USA is only one example that there is room for premium high quality sausage lines in the market place. Meat companies who offer premium “mix and match” ready to eat solutions (sauce, meat & vegetable) will also be sought after; as well as premium ethnic dishes.

Ingredients

In the last couple of years, consumers have driven the development of meat products with healthier ingredients. This is because of an aging population, rising interest in a healthier lifestyles and a growing awareness of the link between diet and health. High protein meat snacks with healthier ingredients are en vogue and sales are rising. Clean label products are well sought after.   Low salt, high protein, high fiber, omega-3 rich products are only a few ingredients that are high profile.

These have only been a few examples of trends which have a big impact on the industry

 

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