Cleaning up processed meat applications

by Keith Nunes and Donna Berry
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Processed meat sandwich
Product developers must maintain safety and preserve shelf life when reformulating processed meats.
 

KANSAS CITY — Leading consumer packaged goods companies are continuing to reformulate food and beverage products with an eye toward appealing to consumer interest in foodstuffs that are perceived as “clean” or “authentic.” The trend is now emanating out of the center-of-the-store, shelf-stable product categories to processed meat items. A challenge many processed meat product formulators face is making the transition with a new formulation that maintains the sensory and food safety attributes of the previous applications.

In May, the Kraft Heinz Co. gave its Oscar Mayer brand a clean label conversion. The entire line now has no added nitrates or nitrites, no artificial preservatives in the meat and no byproducts in any of the hot dogs.

“Oscar Mayer is America’s most iconic hot dog brand, and, as the equity leader, we felt it was time to take a stand for the love of a better hot dog,” said Greg Guidotti, head of marketing at Oscar Mayer.

Kraft Heinz Oscar Mayer overhaul
In May, the Kraft Heinz Co. gave its Oscar Mayer brand a clean label conversion.
 

The reformulation was more than a year in the making, Kraft Heinz said, as the company tested and tinkered with several recipes.

“While it wasn’t an easy task, we’re excited to say that we did it,” Mr. Guidotti said. “Across every single one of our hot dogs … No added nitrates or nitrites. No artificial preservatives. No byproducts. And, all while delivering the same great taste. Oscar Mayer is the first national brand to do it across every single one of our hot dogs, and we did this without changing the price to our consumers. We’re excited that everyone will now have access to a better quality hot dog with the best quality ingredients.”

During a May 3 conference call with financial analysts to discuss The Kraft Heinz Co.’s second-quarter results, Georges El-Zoghbi, chief operating officer of the company’s U.S. commercial business, said product renovation is turning out to be a better investment than innovation.

 

“ … We like the renovation a lot more than innovation because the payback is a lot faster,” he said. “In some areas, it’s almost immediate.”

Mr. El-Zoghbi added that 18 months ago the company began reformulating some Oscar Mayer products and selling them under the Oscar Mayer Naturals brand. The business is now approaching $100 million in sales, he said, and management expects it to continue to grow.

“We did similar things in mac and cheese last year when we removed artificial ingredients,” he said. “And we are very, very happy with the performance. We’re growing share in the mac and cheese category at the back of renovation and innovation … So, while we did not change our communication strategy, we had very, very good growth rate, both in terms of absolute and market share and faster payback on all of these.”

Kraft Heinz’s Oscar Mayer overhaul follows a similar effort from Tyson Foods Inc. Last month, Tyson said it had removed all added nitrites and nitrates from its Ball Park brand beef hot dogs, in addition to eliminating byproducts and added fillers from its meat line.

 

“Ball Park brand has always been about quality,” said Colleen Hall, director, Ball Park brand. “… We’re taking the lead by removing artificial nitrites and nitrates and replacing them with natural alternatives, so people can feel even better when choosing Ball Park beef hot dogs. Consumers want more transparency when it comes to what’s in the food they eat, and we want them to know we’re listening.”

Natural alternatives include sea salt and celery powder. In response to consumer demand for simplified food ingredient labels, meat processors employ preservation techniques such as ingredient formulations to safeguard animal proteins from bacterial contamination. A blend of sea salt and celery powder can eliminate the need for synthetic curing agents.

“The great taste of Ball Park brand hot dogs hasn’t changed,” Ms. Hall said. “We took special care to make sure everything consumers have come to love about our hot dogs stayed the same. We’re America’s No. 1 beef hot dog for a reason, and taste tops the list.”

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