Brits choose A better Banger

Premium products are driving sales in the sausage sector, but economy lines are struggling, reports Chloe Smith

Here is an interesting fact: fresh sausages have the largest premium sector of any food category. According to data from TNS Worldpanel, of all the money spent on fresh sausages, 48.6% goes on premium bangers - more than the standard fresh category, which now accounts for just 42.8% of the cash consumers spend on sausages.

This is not a sign of an invasion of gourmets, however, despite the fact our tastes may have become more sophisticated. It is simply a reflection that even the most luxurious of sausages are still relatively cheap and most people can afford to trade up.

Chris Lamb, consumer marketing manager for the British Pig Executive (BPEX), says: "Even if you're talking about premium sausages, they're still incredibly good value for money. Certainly, six sausages for two people is ample and if that costs just over £2, you couldn't even buy a couple of chicken breasts for that."

Economy woes

This means that, over the last 12 months, the struggling economy sausage sector has suffered further. "You'll always have people who want to buy an economy sausage," says Lamb, "it's what they can afford." But increasingly, sales of the cheapest of sausages are slowing.

The sector has not been helped by new government regulations designed to improve children's health through school meals. For manufacturers who specialise in cheap sausages, this has been demanding, says Lamb, but he argues that the industry has risen to the challenge.

"As far as school meals are concerned, manufacturers were faced with options. They could either pack up and go home, because the same old product wasn't going to be accepted, or - and this is what they actually did - they could develop new formulations of sausages that fitted in with the guidelines required of them.

"Schools want, in the main, to keep sausages on the menu and they have to balance out the fact that the individual unit cost has gone up across that meal or across a week's meals."

They may be more expensive, but, argues Lamb, "one of the things that is as good as guaranteed when you put sausages on the menu is that children will eat them."

Truck-stop sales

There are other markets for the economy sausage, he adds. "The product hasn't died off, because it wasn't only used in school meals. If you go around the country, you'll find a lot of uses for it - whether it be in a breakfast at a greasy spoon or a side-of-the-road truck-stop," he says. "And there are still masses of places that buy their ingredients on price and sausages are no exception."

Yet it is the premium sector that is driving the total sausage market to a growth of 4.4% in the 52 weeks ending 9 September, according to market researcher TNS Worldpanel.

This is despite the fact that fewer premium sausages are actually being bought. Volume is down by 4.9% but prices have increased and pushed the sector into growth.

When the total sausage market is split into fresh and frozen, it becomes clear that the fresh sausage market is dominant in terms of volume and sales. The 8.3% growth over the last year in fresh sausages is driving growth in the total sausage market, according to TNS Worldpanel. The total sausage market is now worth £539.8m, with fresh sausages worth £395.3m, over 73% of the total.

Economy sausages, many of which are frozen, are in decline. TNS Worldpanel data shows in the 52 weeks ending 12 August, the economy sector was worth £14.1m, down from £15.9m the year before. Many point to increasing concerns over health as the reason why the cheapest-of-the-cheap sausages are gradually being strangled out of existence.

HEALTHY limits

But while numerous foods, especially processed products, have been radically reformulated in recent years to cope with a better-educated public demanding lower fat and lower salt, it is impossible to make the sausage super-healthy.

After all, despite the fact there may be a higher meat-content in premium sausages, and they can include ingredients such as herbs, fruit or vegetables, sausages are still made with fat and salt - it is what gives them their flavour. But this does not seem to have dented their appeal.

Bacon has been hit harder, argues Lamb, because the fat is visible on the product and it tastes salty. "A sausage, though, still looks the same as it always did. You can't see the fat in it. Yes, we all know there is a certain amount of fat in a sausage, but it is not perceived to be a fatty product, even though people recognise it's not as healthy as having a pork steak."

The attitude that pervades among shoppers, says Lamb, is: "I don't eat sausages every day. They are something that are part of my menu repertoire and I'm happy to leave them there."

Lamb says this places butchers in a "fantastic position" to target consumers who want top-quality sausages. "If I were a major sausage manufacturer, I'd have to come up with the ideas, develop the products, test them, get them out there, sell them to the customers and then wait and find out, over a period of time, what the results are - whether it's a success or a failure.

"With a butcher, he can mix up a batch, put them on sale, and he knows the results within a few days. So I think it's absolutely right that they carry on experimenting - whether it's with crazy ones or regular ones. Butchers have the immediate feedback from their customers. They'll know which ones are successful and which ones aren't, and they can bury those very, very quickly."

just a minute

Considering the popularity of premium sausages, a perhaps surprising development is the boost in sales of microwave sausages.

James Ashton of TNS Worldpanel says the pre-cooked, ready-to-heat sausages have seen "impressive growth", up 27% on last year, "indicating that consumers are placing greater importance on convenience."

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