Sausages: Nutrition, flavour and innovation

The rise of the premium sausage has helped speed up developments in terms of product flavour and nutritional content. The growth of gourmet sausages has given a boost to gluten-free versions, with higher meat content and improved recipes providing a tastier alternative than was previously available.

One of the great recent successes has been the Cranswick-produced high-profile The Black Farmer range, which has helped position gluten-free firmly in the mainstream. 
Low-fat and diet sausages have developed as well. Cranswick has reported growth in its Weight Watchers brand, boosted by a strong marketing campaign in January.

However, Asda buyer Tim McCaughey says that, while current trends show that both fat and salt are focus areas for health-conscious shoppers, this is still a relatively small part of the market. He attributes poor performance to limited product development which has slowed growth, but admits the area does provide opportunities. “We recently re-launched our reduced-fat sausages into the ‘Chosen by you’ brand, and that is driving significant growth,” he says. 

Charles Baughan, managing director at Westaway Sausages, also sees potential in developing healthier sausages by tweaking recipes. “We have a policy of reducing salt in our recipes on a regular basis,” he says, “but we need to be constructive in new product development in terms of what we can bring forward.We like the idea of using things like split peas to get extra nutrition into a sausage — providing good levels of iron and minerals as well as replacing some of the added fat. A sausage made with 60% pork and split peas is nutritionally superior to a sausage made with 80% pork.”

Other ideas include dried apricots, which not only go well with pork but provide superior nutritional performance, while the strong flavour makes a good substitute for salt. 
Bpex foodservice trade manager Tony Goodger has noticed a shift in the trend of flavour profiles through Bpex’s annual competitions. “In previous years it was pork and leek, or pork and apple,” he says. “Pork and pear featured heavily a few years ago, but this year we’ve noticed more cheeses coming in, such as pork and Stilton, pork and Cheddar, pork and Wensleydale, pork and smoked Cheddar.”

Many firms are becoming more adventurous with ingredients. A Spanish chorizo influence is coming through, as well as chipotle and jalapeño peppers and increased use of good-quality fresh herbs. Judith Johnston of Lucas Ingredients notes that people increasingly want clean, fresh and more modern flavours.

However, as Westaways’ Baughan notes: “A well-made traditional or classic pork sausage is still the nation’s favourite, followed closely by a herb sausage or blend of herbs and spices, then sausages with regional idiosyncrasies. Every 
region has its own favourites. The limit 
is your imagination.”


Talk to the buyer: Simon Twigger, director of fresh and frozen meat, Sainsbury’s

“There’s no doubt customers are looking for newness and interest; we see a strong demand in changing flavours. We’ve launched a number of different flavours in our ranges this year, including chilli and chorizo, jalapeños and tomatoes, which really creates customer interest. We’re also seeing customers wanting to buy British, and there’s increasing interest in making sure the health and welfare of the pig meat included in sausages is of a high standard. All our sausages are British. We’re gradually increasing the amount we have in Freedom Foods RSPCA, and working with suppliers to balance the amount of pig meat across the needs of cooked meat, sausages and bacon, as well as linking our fresh meat supply chain with our bacon and sausage supply chain to balance out that requirement. 

In terms of new product development, before the summer season starts, we do a review of products, sitting down with the supplier and looking at the marketplace. We’ll select some new products that might be of interest to customers. Then we put every product we sell through a customer panel to make sure we’re doing the right thing. Unless it is equal or better than the benchmark we set, we won’t launch it. It might not just be new flavours. This summer, for example, we’ve launched bigger packs, which has enabled us able to put sausages into our 3 for £10 meat offer, thereby allowing customers better value.  

For branded products, we would listen to the proposition from the supplier and see how it would fit into our range. We have launched a lot more regional products in the last few years, which has allowed us to give a regional offer to customers as well as a national offer. There are some very good regional producers who produce a product that is excellent 
in its own right, but they may not be the biggest producers. Therefore sourcing and stocking them on a regional basis is right in that particular instance.

The big challenge is offering a great product in an environment when a lot of our customers are challenged by the current economic situation. 
There is an additional challenge around health and salt. Constructing products that are healthy in the future is one of the challenges throughout this sector. There are different ways this market can go, either to create a traditional, high-meat sausage that would meet all the new EU health requirements on salt and water levels, or using different ingredients to create innovation.”


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