Sausages: After the party

The summer is always heralded as the saving light for producers and retailers of barbecue products and, when you couple that with a major global sporting event such as the football World Cup, interested parties would no doubt have been rubbing their hands with glee over the potential of doubling takings in 2010.

This year saw the second international football tournament in a row that only included England, with none of the other home nation countries nor the Republic of Ireland participating in it. But despite this, sausage firms and national supermarket brands would have been preparing to maximise profit for the quadrennial event a long time in advance, whether they were in Co Tyrone or Kingston upon Hull.

However, AHDB Consumer Insight figures showed that, in the four weeks ending 18 June 2010, analysts saw a peak in sales of burgers and grills of 10,519t compared to 10,606t in the same period in 2006 at the last World Cup, although this only accounts for the first full week of this year's tournament, which kicked off on 11 June. The tournament might have been a disappointment for England fans, but for the sausage industry, it was still a glorious cup run.

Of course, barbecues and al fresco dining seriously depend on the weather and, according to the Met Office, June 2010 ended with below-average rainfall, while provisional figures show that January to June had average rainfall of around 362.5mm, making it one of the driest first six months of the year for 100 years.

According to Sainsbury's sausage and bacon buyer Siobhan Barnes, the summer has been great for the retailer in terms of sausage sales, but it is difficult to say if the football had anything to do it with this. "We had some extremely strong sales and share figures through the summer on sausages, but I think it would be hard to attribute this to the World Cup due to the great weather we saw in certain parts of the country too. As sausages have strong sales in hot and cold weather, they tend to be a staple in customers' shopping baskets."

This summer Sainsbury's launched its World Cup-inspired BBQ sizzlers. The Sainsbury's pork swirls were themed with four football flavours, including: a South African swirl a traditional combination of pork and beef with red wine and a splash of Worcestershire sauce; a French 'Toulouse' swirl, mixing pork and bacon with fresh garlic, parsley and red wine; an Italian-style pork and fennel sausage with garlic, basil, chives and red pepper; and a Brazilian-style pork and hot chilli pepper sausage with red onion and lemon zest. The swirls were said to be 100% British-made with outdoor-reared pork from RSPCA Freedom Food approved farms.

Barnes adds that Sainsbury's has seen some exceptional growth in its own-brand premium ranges, such as Taste The Difference (TTD) sausages, which have an incredibly loyal customer base, she says. Reduced-fat varieties rather than the lower-fat lines have also seen some strong growth this year, Barnes adds.

"We have a range of regional and national products in-store and they perform well for us, though own-label has by far the largest share of trade within Sainsbury's. Due to the strength of TTD, some of the best growth has come from standard tier lines, such as the Riley's line we have in-store."

For Rob Benyon, Asda sausage buyer, both the World Cup, especially the England-Germany game, and some very hot barbecue weekends meant sausages had a good summer, especially compared to the 2009 wash-out. In fact, during the barbecue season this year, Asda conducted a survey, which found that one in five shoppers would not let the weather get in the way of having a barbecue and that, during the Bank Holiday weekend in August, 52% of shoppers would be having their family around for a barbecue.

Asda saw sales of sausages increase in the week leading up to Bank Holiday. Benyon says that, in the four weeks ending 8 August 2010 (Kantar), Asda chilled sausages were up by 7% compared the same period last year. "Growth is driven by both the standard and premium tiers (while) economy, frozen and low fat are all struggling within the sausage sector."

Richmond and Wall's are the biggest brands selling at Asda, but the retailer has recently rolled out Jamie Oliver, Debbie & Andrew's and Porky White premium sausage brands across the chain. "It is still very early days, but indications are really positive," adds Benyon.

Over the summer, Asda has launched three new Extra Special flavours: Pork & Chorizo, Cherrywood Smoked Pork and Pork, Roquito Pepper & Soft Cheese sausages. These, says Benyon, have all been very popular, especially when the sun shone.

"More recently we launched some bigger packs of Extra Special sausages, containing different-sized and shaped products, to tap into the growing trend of sausage versatility over the winter period. For example, the new Extra Special Pork & Herb sausage pack consists of smaller, fatter sausages, ideal for casseroles."

Regarding the World Cup, a Budgens' spokesperson said: "Since the relaunch of our sausage range at the end of June, sales of all sausages branded and own-brand have grown by 16% at wholesale. This is driven by the simple and clear price points of the own-brand sausages' retail prices 3, 2 and 1 which are 12% down on previous own-brand prices."

Waitrose also made a push on its sausages for the World Cup by introducing South African-themed products. These included the Boerewors Whorl Kebab, made from quality coarsely minced beef and pork and seasoned with a particular combination of spices, coriander, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Also on the shelves were: the Lamb and Apricot Sosatie Chipolata, served smothered in a mild curry marinade and seasoned with spices including cumin and coriander; and the Babotie Sausage Whorl, made with coarse-cut English outdoor-bred pork, apricots, sultanas, chilli and coriander. And Waitrose came out with an All Day Breakfast Sausage packed with British sausagemeat.

Even in October, it is hard to assess whether or not the World Cup had any effect, but supermarkets certainly understood the power of marketing their sausages to tie in with the event, demonstrating how intertwined the sausage and sporting events are. Eyes are now firmly on 2012, when there will be both the football European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine and, more importantly for the UK, the Olympic Games, described as the biggest catering operation in Great Britain this side of the Second World War.

Sausage versatility

Current figures from market researcher CREST show that sales of sausages rose by 2.6% to 542.9m in the year to March 2010 and represent 10.3% of the value of all proteins sold out of home. At the same time, overall out-of-home sales declined by 1% and traffic fell by 3.7%, though spend rose by 2.8%.

Bpex foodservice trade manager Tony Goodger says: "Sales of sausages have been driven by: the increase in pub chains offering value-led meal deals, part of which invariably include sausage and mash; continued growth in the budget hotel sector, where breakfast including sausage is part of the overall package; and innovation from the sausage manufacturers, which increasingly recognise foodservice as being an attractive market and which are forming direct relationships with the large foodservice operators and distributors.

"One very innovative pub chain is Orchid, which has linked up with a pig farm sausage enterprise that also makes sausages under the Dingley Dell brand. They feature their producers on their menus and, for example, currently have 'Dingley Dell Pork and Herb Sausages with homemade mash, crispy onions, peas and gravy' on offer at 7.95. I firmly believe that the way forward to further develop sausages will be for the link between the sausage and the farmer to made in front of the customer or chef.

"I know of a number of pig farmers who either directly supply sausages to foodservice outlets or, like Dingley Dell, supply to foodservice distributors or catering butchers, which in turn feature their named product either on the menu or on the product list."

Goodger adds that sausages are not just seen as a staple product for the morning, but are now consistently served mid-morning and evenings as well as lunchtime in the foodservice sector. But Goodger would now like to see the catering sector investing in more than just one type of sausage, such as a breakfast sausage, rather than buying just a uniform sausage and serving it all day round.

The retail sector has also taken note of the versatility of the sausage and outlets now sell it in a wide range of different styles. "Sausages are still huge for breakfasts. However, with the market premiumising over recent years, introducing more and more new and exciting flavours, customers have been encouraged and inspired to utilise sausages in a much wider range of meals, from toad-in-the-hole to sausage meatballs with pasta," according to Asda's Benyon.

Sainsbury's sausage and bacon buyer Siobhan Barnes concurs. "I think sausages are so versatile and a relatively cheap protein; they are used for a variety of meal solutions for both children and adults. As mentioned, due to the fact they are eaten in warm or cold weather they are a staple in the shopping basket. (However) the planned usage will not necessarily be defined at the point of purchase unlike many other proteins."

Not only can the sausage be simply served in a breakfast, in a sandwich, part of bangers-and-mash and toad-in-the-hole, supermarkets have also served them with lentils and as part of a tagine or a hotpot or a cassoulet. The sausage, it seems, can be served with almost anything that prolongs its prominence on the multiples' shelves.

Old and new faces

In pretty much all the major retailers, the Kerry Group range can be found along the multiples' own-brands. Wall's, Richmond, Mattessons and Porkinson are the company's main UK sausage brands and the group reported sales revenue increases of 6.7% to 2.4bn for the half-year ended 30 June 2010. Richmond again achieved double-digit growth in the sausage category while Mattessons Fridge Raiders continued to drive growth in the meat snacking sector. On 16 August, Richmond launched its biggest-ever marketing campaign under the banner the 'The taste that brings them home', the company said. A heavyweight television commercial will be broadcast nationally throughout the autumn as part of a 4m marketing campaign to raise awareness of the brand. There will also be a search for the nation's favourite sausage recipes in partnership with consumer magazines and in association with the mothers of celebrity chefs James Martin and Lesley Waters. Derek Williamson, Kerry Foods marketing director, says: "We believe that, with both the new packaging and the 'The taste that brings them home' campaign, we will significantly enhance visibility and loyalty to the brand, drive sales in-store and continue to significantly grow the category."

The campaign is aimed at increasing sausage sales in the off-trade, where Kerry says Richmond's brand value has grown by 18% to 122m in the past year. It will headline across the entire sausage range, which has been revamped with new packaging, designed to project Richmond as a heritage brand, and a significantly increased on-shelf presence.

Sausage producer Cranswick also reports a robust start to the year, with first-quarter sales booming. The company says there has been an increase in total sales of 19% to 198m in the three months to the end of June. The company also says sausage sales continue to forge ahead and has improved its business efficiency bringing in new abattoirs and scaling up its sausage capacity.

Other brands that have seen activity this year include Powters, Highland Game, Dickson and Duchy Originals. Suffolk firm Powters has revamped its packaging and the range will include five brand new varieties, which will hit the shelves this autumn.

Joining the Powters Newmarket sausage, Powters 1881 sausage, and the Powters Chipolata sausage, the five new varieties are Cider and Sage, Gluten-free, Low-fat, Spicy Spanish and Real Ale.

Powters MD Grant Powter says: "Consumer demand is for quality British products, which deliver real freshness and flavour. The traditional quality and superior taste of Powters' sausages, combined with the brand new premium look, gives retailers a real opportunity for increased profits. This is particularly pertinent during the pre-Christmas period, when demand for Powters sausages typically increases by over 150% and retailers often underestimate stock requirements."

Highland Game and Morrisons have also teamed up to offer the company's Scottish Slimmers venison sausages, joining Asda, Tesco and Sainbury's Scottish stores. Each sausage is said to only have 55 calories, a fat content of 2g and contains less than 3% saturated fat.

Meanwhile South Shields-based Dickson has also taken part in introducing three varieties of its sausage into Tesco stores as part of the Tesco Local initiative, which is the supermarket's continued drive to satisfy the growing market for locally sourced regional products. Dicksons' branded Cumberland-style, Lincolnshire-style and pork sausages in packs of six were made available in 19 Tesco shops across the north east from March.

The company has also announced intentions to increase its South Shields production facilities as part of a 1m investment in extending its factory. It will add 575sq m to its existing South Tyneside factory and bakery in a bid to grow its wholesale division.

Private-label brands have also seen growth this year with The Co-operative, Budgens and Waitrose all announcing expansions to its lines. For autumn The Co-operative has unveiled Truly Irresistible Toffee Apple Sausages, made with Freedom Food outdoor-reared Hampshire breed pork with apple, black treacle, demerara sugar and a blend of seasonings.

Budgens has said that its new sausage range has seen close to 250,000 sausages sold since its launch on 24 June, with sales driven by a 'buy-one-get-one-free' offer.

Lastly Duchy Originals from Waitrose was unveiled last month with a new look and whole host of new products, including Pork Buttered Leek Sausages.

The sausage is in no doubt rude health and the fact that more and more companies are now entering the market with continued investment in own-brand stock, shows that, for anyone involved in the sausage sector, now is as good a time as any.


'No mystery to casings'

An integral part of the sausage is the casing but this has been a mystery to many in the supply chain, according to James Harder, MD of Yorkshire-based natural casings supplier Harder Bros (pictured). Speaking at the Fifth Quarter Conference in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, last month, Harder said that even defining what a casing was confused many involved in the meat industry.
"Basically, casings have always been a bit of an unknown quantity. They've been mysterious in the sense that they weren't animal by-products although they have been associated with the gut room with all the other by-products in there. They weren't really meat although obviously we're closer to the meat than we are with by-products, as the latter are not really fit for human consumption in most cases. So even though they have been around for thousands of years, the irony is that, until very recently, casings have been in a no-man's land. Casings are different to an intestine, although it's interesting that some parts of Europe such as Greece and areas of Spain, do consume the green offal at certain times of the year, albeit not on a large scale.
"Casings are the means to an end, the intestine is a means to an end and the end is the sausage manufacturer. What we have to remind ourselves is that casings suppliers are under a great deal of pressure from the supermarkets to keep their costs down; we are only as good as the sausage manufacturer, in terms of keeping prices up in the retail sector. So the only alternative we have as we cannot increase supplies to the manufacturer is to try and encourage more efficient products and that goes back to the abattoir industry to help us to have efficient and reliable intestine that is actually fit-for-purpose in the first place."


Fresh sausage analysis by Kantar worldpanel

The GB fresh sausage market is worth 578m in the 52 weeks to 5 September 2010. Value sales in the category have grown by 2.5%, but volume sales have only increased by 1%, as price increases have boosted value growth. The volume growth we have seen in the market has been driven by shoppers buying more volume per trip. The average quantity purchased per trip is now 600g. This increase has been driven by X-for-Y deals, which encourage shoppers to purchase in greater quantities. The percentage of GB households buying fresh sausages over the last year has remained static at 83%.
Standard and premium tiers dominate the market and both sectors have seen value growth in the last year
In terms of retailers, Tesco and Sainsbury's both over-trade in fresh sausages compared to their share of the wider grocery market. The key winners over the last year have been Waitrose and Iceland, who have both seen double-digit sales growth. It should be noted that Waitrose and Iceland are the top performing retailers at a total grocery level, so their performance in fresh sausages will be linked to overall store performance to a certain extent.
The hard discounters continue to experience sales growth in this category, with sales up 5.6% in the last year. Of the top four retailers, Tesco is the best-performing in value terms with 5.5% growth. Sainsbury's has seen static value sales, but volume sales have grown by 4.8%, making Sainsbury's the best-performing retailer of the Big Four in volume terms.


Foodservice's ultimate test

Judging is under way this month for the best-quality sausage in the catering sector with Bpex's 'Foodservice Sausage of the Year'. The competition, now in its eighth year, aims to recognise and reward the range of quality pork sausages the foodservice sector has to offer and chefs and catering suppliers will be battling it out to produce the most innovative sausage.
Bpex adds that quality is of increasing importance when it comes to serving up sausages. Sourcing assured pork such as that reared to the Assured Food Standards scheme and which carries the Red Tractor mark will provide a quality guarantee, it says, as well as confirmation of traceability, country of origin and high standards of animal welfare.
Bpex foodservice trade manager, Tony Goodger, says: "No matter what the occasion or type of venue, quality sausages made from assured pork remain a firm favourite with diners. This is a great opportunity to gain recognition for your sausages, and the awards are a great publicity tool to boost interest and sales particularly during British Sausage Week, which follows shortly after."
From traditional styles to speciality flavours and innovative recipes for specific markets, there will be five category awards, including Traditional Pork Sausage, Speciality Pork Sausage, Best Pub Pork Sausage, Best Innovative Pork Sausage and Best Pork Sausage.
The deadline has already passed, but the three finalists from each category will be put forward to take part in a grand final at Butchers' Hall, London on 22 October, where the winners will be announced.


Strictly's Craig gives sausages a ten

The 13th annual British Sausage Week gets under way from 1 November and this popular event is a sales boosting opportunity for all parts of the supply chain.
In 2009, the week generated 17m-worth of media coverage, says Bpex, and the campaign reached an audience of 450m; that's potentially every UK citizen seeing or hearing about British Sausage Week seven times.
A packed programme will ensure that this year is the best ever, says Bpex, with plenty of high-profile activity to promote quality sausages, such as those that are sourced from an assured supply chain, including the Red Tractor scheme from Assured Food Standards.
The highlight of the Week will be a competition to find the best bangers in the country, which also celebrates the taste, quality and rich diversity of the great British sausage.
Entries have flooded in from manufacturers, producers and retailers, says Bpex, and with judging currently under way, the finalists will be announced shortly. Cook-offs and winners' presentations will take place in selected regions around the UK between 1-5 November, headed up by the Sausage Week celebrity and guest judge Craig Revel Horwood (pictured).
The Strictly Come Dancing judge and star choreographer will not only be handing out the prestigious awards, but also generating headlines, Bpex hopes, and increasing awareness of British Sausage Week and the many quality assured varieties available.
"The great British banger has so much to offer and I can't wait to get on the road and judge the best of the best bangers out there," says Revel Horwood. "I'm looking forward to seeing what's on offer, I'm a tough judge, so my expectations are high."
Last year Tesco and processor Walkers Midshire Foods won the Retail Gold Award for its Finest Six British Pork & Spiced Apricot Sausages.

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