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A Great (Meaty) Start

The recession has taken some of the sizzle out of refrigerated breakfast meat sales in the U.S., but the category is still cooking. The introduction of healthier products and added convenience – to encourage consumers to add bacon or sausage to breakfast any day of the week – is helping the category weather tough times.
In its report, “Breakfast and Sandwich Meat – US,” Chicagobased research firm Mintel originally forecast category growth of 1.2 percent for 2008, with similar growth continuing through 2011. However, when consumers began pinching pennies during the recession, new data changed the category forecast. Mintel now forecasts a slow recovery of the category through 2013. The category forecast could have been gloomier, given that some consumers may move to private label products to save money, but brand loyalty in the category is strong.
Mintel thinks the category has benefited from more at-home meals and will continue to do so. Some of refrigerated breakfast meats’ strongest competition may come from prepackaged, pre-made breakfast meals. While bacon is a staple in 79 percent of U.S. households and sausage in 75 percent (Simmons data), many consumers still regard cooking bacon and sausage for breakfast as a weekend treat rather than a daily protein boost. Manufacturers are working to alter this consumer perception through easily prepared products.
“A Well-balanced Attack”
“Our most popular breakfast items continue to be the fresh roll sausage and smoked sausage categories, andbacons,” says Gene Deno, business manager/buyer, processed meats, for Indianapolis-based Marsh . The chain operates 99 Marsh and five O’Malia’s Food Markets in Indiana and Ohio. “We have had much success with a variety of brands. However, in the fresh sausage category, Bob Evans, Tennessee Pride and Purnell lead the way. Bacons follow that same suit, depending on which brand is being promoted.” His most popular bacon brands include Oscar Mayer, Indiana Kitchen and Emge. “In the event we promote one of our other brands, it does very well as a promoted item.” Eckrich is the brand of choice for smoked sausage among Marsh Supermarket shoppers, whether advertised or not, he notes.
To promote the category, Marsh rotates promotional items (fresh sausage, smoked sausage, bacons, breakfast sandwiches, etc.) each week. “We do this in an effort to reach the majority of our customers’ needs,” Deno says. “We have found that a well-balanced attack on the weekly ads has given us a nice lift in the processed meat category as a whole.”
Deno notes that his company works to stay on top of several promotional seasons each year and takes advantage of these opportunities for sales. For “August: Back to School,” breakfast sandwiches, fresh links and patties, and cooked links and patties are advertised. The holiday seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas bring promotions of fresh roll sausage, bacons and family-pack fresh sausage links and patties to Marsh. During the months of June, July and August, this Midwestern chain takes advantage of ripening garden tomatoes to promote the entire bacon category, he says, for “BLT Season.”
Convenience, Better-For- You? 
“The two trends primarily driving category consumption for breakfast meats, specifically sausage and bacon, are consumers’ desire for more convenient and better-for-you options,” says Larry McFadden, refrigerated breakfast director at , a division of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee. is delivering on these consumer trends in several major ways, according to McFadden. “In terms of convenience, we offer a line of fully cooked breakfast sausage and bacon items,” he notes. The products are ready in minutes from a skillet or microwave, he says, making a hot breakfast possible any day of the week.
Consumers in search of a healthier hot breakfast can opt for Jimmy Dean fully cooked turkey links and patties with 50 percent less fat and fewer calories than regular sausage. A reduced-fat Jimmy Dean roll sausage is also available.
For consumers in search of premium or organic breakfast meats, Jimmy Dean recently launched an all-natural roll sausage in regular and hot pork varieties. To enable product to maintain optimal freshness throughout its shelf life, the brand now offers fresh links and patties in a modified atmosphere package (MAP). 
Refrigerated breakfast meat companies have noted the recession’s effect on consumer purchases and the trend toward more meals at home. “Over the latest 52 weeks, raw bacon has grown,” says Leigh Myers, senior associate brand manager for Oscar Mayer, a division of Northfield, Ill.- based Kraft Foods.
Kraft is also following the shift in consumer shopping toward more healthy refrigerated breakfast meats and purchases of premium products. “We continue to see growth in poultry bacon – the segment is also up,” notes Myers. Oscar Mayer’s selection includes turkey bacon, with 50 percent less fat than regular pork bacon. “Also, Oscar Mayer Lower Sodium Bacon… offers 30 percent less sodium than our regular bacon.”
One of the newest items from Oscar Mayer is Center Cut Thick Sliced Bacon. The premium product is available in a new stay-fresh, recloseable tray. Myers points out that Oscar Mayer is the only bacon brand to offer this type of packaging for its center-cut items.
Odom’s Tennessee Pride may pride itself on offering customers “real country sausage,” but the company is taking serious note of consumer preferences for betterfor- you and all-natural products.
Last year, the company launched a 16-ounce all-natural mild roll sausage and all-natural fully cooked turkey sausage patties, which have one-third less fat, 20 percent less cholesterol and 25 percent less sodium than Tennessee Pride’s regular fully cooked pork patties. “Our allnatural mild roll sausage is packaged in green, which sets it apart on the store shelf,” says Mark Newell, marketing director for the Madison, Tenn.-headquartered company.
Soon to come from Tennessee Pride: turkey sausage biscuits (the company’s first breakfast sandwich to feature poultry meat) and a hot version of its fully cooked turkey patties.