Overall, AHDB research shows that sausage consumption has struggled out of the home environment, with servings down 7% on last year. According to Matthew Southan, senior retail & consumer insight analyst at AHDB, this is primarily the result of more people choosing to cook sausages as part of the main evening meal. “If people are eating them at home,” he says, “then when they go out, they want something else.”
However, as Southan points out, this mainly affects the evening meal occasion, and the growth in foodservice breakfast promotions has encouraged an increased consumption of sausages at different mealtimes. This has proved to be the most significant growth area, according to research by retail market research specialists NPD Crest, with an increasing number of pubs now serving breakfasts, as well as cafés that have increased their breakfast offerings. Caffè Nero, Costa and Starbucks all offer sausages in one form or another, and Costa is clearly identifying the sausages it serves as British, although they do not carry the Red Tractor mark.
According to Bpex’s foodservice trade manager Tony Goodger, this trend is due partly to the improvement and innovation of pre-cooked sausages available to the foodservice sector. Snowbird Foods, for example, recently won two golds in the Bpex awards for it new range of Traditional Lincolnshire sausages, which contains meat from a single-source Red Tractor approved specific breed pig.
“The quality has gone up in the last 12 months,” Goodger says, “and with it, the demand from coffee shops and pubs. One of the reasons foodservice firms like pre-cooked sausages is that they get consistency of cook: they don’t need skilled chefs doing breakfast, so they can reduce the costs. Also, by using a cooked one they can reduce any food-safety and hygiene risks.”
Goodger views this as a growth area for processors and foodservice alike. “For a long time we’ve tried to persuade firms to offer a different sausage at breakfast — normally a plain pork sausage with a hint of seasoning — to the one they serve at lunch and dinner, which goes with a speciality, more flavour-profile product,” he says.
As Goodger point out, if foodservice companies specifically asked for a breakfast sausage when buying, processors would be able to produce a speciality breakfast sausage that could then be promoted hard into foodservice. This, in turn, becomes a point of differentiation, because foodservice outlets are more likely to reference the processor or brand of a higher-quality sausage on their menus, which generates greater brand-recognition and helps to drive sales. Processors and catering butchers are then able to realise a better price for their products, as customers are more willing to pay for a speciality sausage over its standard counterparts.
Besides the growth of breakfasts, the recovery of the pub sector has also been the result of aggressive price points, with promotions (such as two meals for £9.99) put in place to help drive selected dishes. More often than not, this includes sausages.
“The pub groups are realising that sausages are a good promotional tool,” says Goodger, “as they’re a good-value protein that can be included in a fixed-price promotion. People like eating sausages, and they like eating sausage and mash outside the home, so promotions can be used to drive footfall into foodservice businesses.”
Ian Cundell of The British Premium Sausage Company has found this to be true of hotels, as higher flavour profile sausages can generate a greater price margin. “We’re increasing the basic range,” he says. “The Cumberland has been selling very well, but there are more enquiries for a flavoured sausage, such as a beer sausage, a pork and apple, or a pork and leek sausage, because hotels want to use it in a lunchtime centre-of-plate protein. Obviously there is more value in a main-course centre-of-plate sausage than there is for a buffet-style breakfast one.”
Cundell says hotels and restaurants have felt the squeeze, so it has been difficult for processors to pass prices onto their clients; however with volumes up, there is still scope for growth.
“Our sales are up about 20% over this time last year, and that’s not purely down to a more expensive product,” he says. “We are selling more of our sausages, and a better sausage does increase the sales value on the year a little bit. It still remains a cheap product in real terms compared to other meat products.”
Pubs and cafés aren’t the only businesses waking up to the increased sales opportunities sausages can provide. According to Bpex, the university sector has been particularly keen to promote Sausage Week this year — and not just because of the popularity of the week’s ambassador, Noddy Holder. “They’ve realised they need to attract students into their dining halls with good value-for-money meals,” says Goodger. “Students are strapped for cash because of higher food bills, and sausages provide good value and good margins.”
Schools, however, have been slower to pick up on this benefit. A YouGuv survey commissioned by Bpex found that children eat school meals more frequently if sausages are on the menu, and parents are keen to encourage this. So far, however, school food trusts have proved reluctant to increase the frequency of sausages on school menus — an opportunity which, Goodger points out, is on a massive scale.
“There are clear economic benefits with local authorities struggling for money at the moment,” he says. “Although the price of sausages is up because the price of meat is going up, sausages still represent good value for money.
“Our research shows that 15% more schoolchildren eat school meals when sausages are served, so effectively they’re turning away 15% of their client base — about 400,000 children — by not serving sausages more frequently.
“The quality of sausages into the schools market has changed completely in the last five years,” he adds. “It has gone from poor-quality, high-fat sausages to low-fat, low-salt sausages, which deliver good eating quality to the student. I think School Food Trusts now needs to recognise that and specify to school food suppliers that sausages can be served more often than once a fortnight.”
As far as future developments in the foodservice sector go, Goodger remains positive that opportunities for growth exist. NPD Crest identified significant growth in meat-based sandwiches, predominantly driven by bacon and sausages, which could provide ample market opportunities, particularly as there is greater collaborating between foodservice companies and suppliers.
“Sandwiches are a good market,” Goodger says, “but it’s a case of sitting down with customers and understanding how they’ll serve it, looking at different types of bread and making a sausage to complement that. Herby focaccias are popular now, but they need a less herby sausage. With a high-quality rustic bread, you can have a more flavoursome sausage.”
Gluten-free sausages have also become more common and quality has improved immeasurably. Whereas five or six years ago, they were dry and powdery, businesses have worked closely with the Coeliac Society to find more effective recipes and ingredients to make a good, gluten-free sausage. As a result, more and more mainstream brands and retailers are championing gluten-free, using it as a point of different on the front-of-pack.
Goodger sees this as an opportunity within the pub and restaurant sector. “Modern foodservice should perhaps recognise the opportunity that exists to drive sales perhaps by having a gluten-free option available to customers,” he says.
Other opportunities can be found by examining the retail sector. Ready meals are an obvious choice, combining good value, a wide array of products and convenience. Sausages have become more popular as an ingredient in the home, and supermarket shelves are now groaning with branded and own-label wet sauces for sausage casseroles, while dry mixes such as Schwartz, Crosse & Blackwell and Colman’s also abound. Waitrose is now selling a casserole sausage — smaller than the standard sausage but bigger than a chipolata — specifically for hearty sausage stews. However, ready meals using sausages or sausage casseroles have made few inroads into the foodservice sector.
“Foodservice could take a leaf out of this retail market and do more with sausage casseroles,” Goodger says, “especially at this time of year when we’re moving from light nights with vibrant food, to dark, cold nights when people want comforting, warming food.”