Sausages with something extra, that's what customers want and manufacturers are falling over themselves to meet demand
It seems that Britons are getting a taste for the unusual when it comes to buying sausages. A new Mintel report has revealed that while pork is still popular with purists, an increasing range of frankly odd-sounding bangers (crocodile anyone?) are growing in popularity.
In fact, a Mintel survey of nearly 1,000 shoppers showed that 15% buy speciality meat sausages. Such is the popularity of alternative meat sausages that some, such as venison sausages, are now almost mainstream, with products such as Marks & Spencer's venison sausages with orange and port gravy hitting the shelves.
One smaller company that has tapped into the market for the extraordinary is Shrewsbury-based Alternative Meats, which sells to butchers, farm shops, delis, hotels and pubs and, crucially, via the internet.
Jeanette Edgar, one of the directors of the company, says that the formation of the website was important in developing trade and allowing the company's niche products to have as wide an audience as possible. It is now responsible for taking 35% of the company's turnover.
"A lot of our website customers are returning time and time again," she says. "We know them by name, they know us, it's like a little club. They return because they love to try different things each time. We try and change the variety of sausages as often as we can."
A quick glance at the Alternative Meats menu shows that current recipes include: kangaroo; springbok with red wine and rosemary; ostrich and Italian herbs; wild boar, Stilton and spring onion; and venison, red wine and garlic.
The sausages are particularly popular, because, says Jeanette, like burgers, they are a non-threatening way to try something different: "It is proved to us when we do food exhibitions and shows. If you're cooking sausages and burgers people don't hesitate to try it because they know sausages and burgers. They are more willing to try something unusual if it is in the shape of a sausage or a burger. I suppose it's the mentality - people are familiar with the concept of a sausage."
According to Mintel, until relatively recently the focus for alternative meat sausages has been other, traditional British flavours, such as beef, lamb and poultry. However, specialist sausage producers, such as Jeanette, are gaining a higher profile and venison sausages have grown in popularity after successfully being marketed as low-fat and healthy. The internet has undoubtedly had a role to play, as niche manufacturers have been able to make their businesses viable by selling to a worldwide market online.
Ironically, the first foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) crisis in 2001 actually had a silver lining for Jeanette and Alternative Meats. The day she opened for business was the day FMD struck.
But it proved to be an incentive for a bit of lateral thinking as, unable to source ostrich from the UK, she turned to South Africa.
This was the point, she says, "where we realised we could also bring in other South African meats, such as springbok and crocodile".
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