A Recipe For Growth

There has been an explosion of growth over the last decade in the market for both frozen and chilled ready meals based on fully cooked comminuted meat products and recent high profile new product launches demonstrate that canners are also now expanding their interest.

Much of this growth can be traced to an award-winning North London company that has no retail brand and a zero retail market profile – except with ready meals manufacturers.

Snowbird foods was established in 1999 to manufacture fully cooked sausages and other meat products. It was set up by an experienced management team that had sold a company making raw frozen sausages because it believed the route to future profitability lay with high quality, food safe, fully cooked products.

Not at first it wasn’t. The market didn’t exist and it was a battle to find the niches for the products being offered.

Key to the subsequent growth of sales was a high-powered, high speed new product development team which has demonstrated that it can respond very quickly indeed to meals manufacturers who have been placed under pressure by retailers seeking both true innovation and me-too ready meals, preferably using only familiar, store-cupboard ingredients.

The activities of Snowbird (and its competitors) have seen the market for ready meals divide into super premium, premium, standard, value, and healthy living and children’s segments with more popular dishes, like Snowbird’s sausage and mash, appear in all of them.

The fully cooked business really began to grow when ready meal assemblers realised it was cheaper and more convenient to source sausages, meat balls and the like from a supplier which could guarantee to consistently meet a specification rather than occasionally utilise it’s own expensive factory space to make, cook and freeze the products.

Such realisation has given Snowbird a multi million pound business, spread across almost every multiple private label and a surprising number of manufacturer brands. Seventy per cent of this is for frozen ready meals with the remaining 30% being accounted for by the chilled market.

An early decision to spend over £100,000 on creating a miniature factory for the new product development team proved a far-sighted move.

It enabled NPD manager Jason Drage and his team to respond very quickly to written manufacturers’ specifications or even telephone calls pleading for help and ideas.

Several senior managers plan their work schedules around an expectation that they will spend up to 50% of a working week on this sort of development, with a lot of the challenges arriving unbidden and unscheduled and requiring instant responses.

Sausages are the bulk of the business and bespoke products based on the company’s Gourmet Plus range can have a meat content of up to 90%. Practised procurement methods mean it can be all British, from a single breed of cattle or (almost) anything else a customer seeks to specify.

At the other end of the quality scale, value sausages get the same degree of attention to generate products that are both tasty and well textured.

Recipe ideas appear endless. Whole sausages go with mash, as the stars of Toad in the Hole, in Cumberland Sausage Pies, in casseroles and as a base for a selection of breakfast ideas. Horseshoes and ring shapes add variety. Sausage coins appear in soups (a new and fast growing snack meal segment), as the star of pasta meals and in hand held pasta pots.

Meat Balls and Koftes provide variety, with a range of recipes representing Foods of the World including traditional English, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines.

All three products are also being utilised in the growing sectors for party food and children’s meals.

In the hand held area, both length-split sausages and coin cuts feature in hot and cold sandwiches with balls and koftes adding interest to the wraps market.

“We work very hard to produce new ideas that have unique flavour profiles based on the balance we can create between specific quantities of quite a large number of store cupboard ingredients and this complexity is one of the factors which has set us apart – it is so much harder for competitors to mimic these complex recipes,” said Mr. Drage.

Good recipes are only part of the solutions Snowbird provides to its customers. Its factory has recently benefited from a £5m. upgrade which has enabled it to do everything faster, at a lower cost and with guaranteed consistency.

A happy spin-off from the meat balls business has proved to be stuffing balls which can be processed on the same line.

One customer last year bought more than twenty million. That proved to be one very successful piece of new product development which has benefited both the ready meals and foodservice markets.

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All meat products are produced in the UK from the highest quality ingredients.