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Healthy Kids Meals

Push for low-sodium, low-fat products opens opportunities for deli meat and cheese processors

That call to action—posted front and center on Applegate Farms’ home page (—invites kids (and the parents who pack their lunches) to “commit to filling your lunch boxes with the good stuff for one week.” There’s even a link where, with a single click, they can announce to their Facebook friends that they’re up to the challenge.

Would your company’s products qualify to fill those lunch boxes? If you lack low-sodium, low-fat, low-calorie, nitrate-free and gluten-free deli products, the answer is likely a resounding, “No!”

Less Means More

Whether it is news about National Child Obesity Awareness Month every September, Michelle Obama’s Get Moving initiative, the National School Lunch Program, or the National Salt Reduction Initiative, consumers are being bombarded with data that highlights the need to enhance the healthy profile of their children’s diets.

And for good reason.

A recent CDC Vital Signs report found that about 90 percent of U.S. school-aged children consume too much sodium each day. To put that into perspective, if there are 20 kids in a child's class, 18 of them will be eating too much sodium. The report also found that one in nine children, ages 8 to17, has a blood pressure that measures too high, putting them at risk for heart disease. 

As the CDC notes, “A healthy, low-sodium diet can have an important effect on a child's blood pressure and heart health now and later in life.”

Making sure kids’ meals contain less sodium and fat and few or no preservatives is one step that can help turn those statistics around.

The Role Deli Meats and Cheeses Play

But sometimes bad news means burgeoning opportunity.

The CDC, for example, suggests ways parents can reduce the amount of sodium in their children’s lunch boxes: “Identify the foods contributing the most sodium to your child's lunchbox and find lower-sodium options. Like the lower-sodium cold cuts that are now offered at most delis. When available, buy
low-sodium, lower-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of products.”

It’s practically a free ad for any meat and cheese company that purveys those products!


What Industry Stats Say

The increase in information about healthy diets has impacted consumers’ preferences, as well as the number of products being targeted to health-conscious shoppers, and to sales of those products, industry statistics show.

The good news for meat and cheese manufacturers is that kids commonly nosh on sandwiches, pizza and snack packs—and that means they’re eating a lot of sliced turkey, ham, Swiss, mozzarella and cheddar.

But in a culinary world increasingly focused on healthy products, that’s the bad news, as well.

“The [Vital Signs] report shows that 10 types of food alone make up 43 percent of youth sodium intake nationwide,” Dr. Ileana Arias, the CDC principal director, noted in a press briefing about the report in September 2014. Cold cuts/cured meats, sandwiches, cheese and pizza fall on that list.

“Mintel research found that 20 percent of consumers age 18 and over say prepackaged lunch meat is too processed for their tastes, and 45 percent say all-natural ingredients are important to their purchase decision,” The 2015 Deli Report from The National Provisioner stated. “In addition, more than a quarter of lunch meat users cite products with low or no fillers, low or no nitrates and nitrites, and being free of hormones as purchasing priorities.”

Just how are those products performing?

“Across the total store, the claim ‘no salt or sodium’ saw a consistent year-over-year increase from 2011 to 2015, right around 5 percent per year,” Sarah Schmansky, Director Retail Program, Nielsen Perishables Group, reported. “The claim ‘no salt or sodium added’ saw a large jump in dollar sales from 2012 to 2013 (up 17 percent), but sales have been trailing off since.”

The move toward more nutritional product profiles has positively impacted the deli meat category, too. “In deli meat, products with health claims, including low/decreased sodium and reduced fat/lean, increased dollar sales 8 percent and 2 percent [respectively] over the latest 52 weeks ending 7/25/15,” Schmansky said.

Graphic courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Improving the Profile of Pre-packed Lunch Kits

Consumers browsing deli cases today can find more options than ever before when shopping for healthier foods for their families.

One of the the newest additions comes courtesy of Applegate Farms, which recently became an independently operated, stand-alone subsidiary of Hormel Foods.

In August 2014, Applegate debuted HALF TIME, the first kids’ lunch kit made with natural and organic ingredients. The kits include items from three of the leading brands in the natural and organic channel—Applegate’s natural and organic meats and cheeses, Stonyfield’s organic yogurt and Annie's organic fruit snacks and crackers—all pre-packed in one convenient kit.

The HALF TIME line was developed based on the fact that 88 percent of parents in an Applegate survey said they thought pre-packed lunch kits were convenient, while 79 percent said they were concerned about the nitrates, preservatives and artificial ingredients in those kits.

"Our survey showed that parents love the convenience of pre-packed lunch kits, but not necessarily the ingredients," said Neil Leinwand, Applegate senior vice president of marketing, in a press release announcing HALF TIME’s arrival.

Products include HALF TIME Ham & Cheese packed with Applegate Natural Ham, classic Applegate American cheese, Annie’s Buttery Rich Crackers, Annie’s Friends Bunny Grahams and Stonyfield YoKids Squeezers Strawberry Organic Lowfat Yogurt and HALF TIME Turkey & Cheese with Applegate Natural Turkey, classic Applegate American cheese, Annie’s Buttery Rich Crackers, Annie’s Organic Berry Patch Fruit Snacks and Stonyfield YoKids Squeezers Strawberry Organic Lowfat Yogurt.

Applegate is also one of the companies behind the Rock the Lunch Box (—a program created to “provide lunch packing inspiration and make it easier to build a better lunchbox."

In addition to the pre-packed lunch products, Applegate Farms offers a variety of pre-sliced natural and organic ham, turkey, chicken and roast beef lunch meats.

"A growing number of consumers are choosing natural and organic products. This deal allows us to expand the breadth of our protein offerings to provide consumers more choice," said Jeffrey M. Ettinger, chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer at Hormel Foods, in a press release announcing the acquisition agreement in late May.


Interestingly—and perhaps surprisingly—the meal kit format originally targeted to kids is starting to make a mark in the adult meal arena, too.

“We’ve actually been seeing an uptick in ‘lunchable’-style products in the deli, but they’re aimed at adults rather than children. These products feature meats and cheeses that appeal to increased interest in Italian deli meats and more ‘artisan’ offerings, including individual snacking trays with crackers, salami/pepperoni and provolone,” Schmansky noted.

Applegate Farms isn’t the only company clamoring for a share of health-focused deli shoppers’ dollars. The following companies are among those improving the nutritional profiles of their deli meats and cheeses.

*Boar’s Head. In 2010, when the National Salt Reduction Initiative was announced, Boar’s Head was in the first group of 16 companies to sign on and was the first delicatessen products company to join. The company offers an entire line of lower sodium deli meats and cheeses including Lower Sodium American Cheese; Lower Sodium Provolone Cheese; Lower Sodium Muenster Cheese; No Salt Added Swiss Cheese; Lower Sodium Bologna; No Salt Added Oven Roasted Turkey Breast; and Branded Deluxe Ham.

*Hillshire Farms. The company’s roster of more nutritious, lower-sodium, thin-sliced lunch meats includes ultra-thin, slow-smoked ham and oven-roasted turkey breast made with 25 percent less sodium than USDA data for ham with natural juices and turkey breast as well as the Naturals line that includes slow roasted and hardwood-smoked turkey breast, and Black Forest and honey-roasted ham made with no artificial ingredients, preservatives, colors or added nitrates/nitrites.

*Hormel Foods. The line of Hormel Natural Choice meats is one of the company’s fastest growing brands. The products are 100 percent natural with zero preservatives and no artificial colors or MSG. No nitrates or nitrates are added, and the meats have no gluten-containing ingredients.

*Thin ’n Trim. The company’s goal is “to produce the best–tasting, lowest-sodium product on the market that is also low in fat.” Pre-cut products include roast beef and Italian beef; smoked, honey and oven-roasted turkey breast; cooked, Virgina and honey ham; and Buffalo-style and honey mesquite chicken breast. Low-sodium, low-fat, gluten-free, fresh-cut deli meats are also available.

Other Suppliers Answer the Call

Much of the press around healthy lunches focuses on deli meats. But cheese plays a big role, too. According to the July 2015 Cheese Market in the U.S. 2015-2019 report by Research and Markets, low-fat cheeses are more in demand than ever.


“Low-fat cheese contains less saturated fat and a low sodium content. Most low-fat cheese is made from skimmed milk, which contains less fat in comparison to normal cheese,” the report notes.


“Low fat is also preferred by parents for their children because they do not want them to become obese. Almost every leading cheese manufacturing organization, including Groupe Lactalis, Kraft Foods, and Arla Foods, offers low-fat cheese in the U.S.. The growing popularity of low-fat cheese in the U.S. is expected to drive the cheese market in the country in the future.”

Healthier Cheese Please!
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