Sparrer Sausage Co. Inc.

As consumers’ lives become busier, the attraction of quick bursts of protein grabbed on the go grows, too. This portion of the market, where the line between snacking and meal replacement blurs, is the one in which Sparrer Sausage Co. Inc. is experiencing the highest growth in its sausage business. “High-quality snack sticks and sausage bites are an important part of growing the business in the snacking channel,” Vice President Chris Hetherman says.

“Snack sticks and sausage bites make up about 25 percent of our business. Another 25 percent is fresh product like chorizo and the other 50 percent is traditional, summer sausage-type products.” Brian Graves, Sparrer’s third-generation owner, estimates 95 percent of Sparrer’s chorizo business is private label.

Sparrer Sausage Co. Inc. has launch­ed a line extension of its famous Lil Dude snacks: Lil Dude Big Sticks, a 1-ounce all-beef snack stick.

“We use a high­­er quality meat block, real hickory wood to smoke our products, and we have developed over 18 flavors of mouth-watering snacks – we are the Pringles of the meat snack industry,” Hetherman points out.

“It’s an all-beef product – we don’t have pork or mechanically separated chicken or turkey fillers in the product,” he maintains. “We’re targeting a retail price in the 99-cent range for the Lil Dude 1-ounce Big Stick.”

Sparrer Sausage Co. focuses on human safety, food safety and quality as the most important parts of the business. For example, the company received a rating for food safety and quality on its third-party audit by Silliker Inc. of 98.3 percent in 2009 and 96.3 percent by Cook and Thurber in 2010.

Sparrer Sausage prides itself on its ability to create new products quickly and ride consumer trends to market before competitors. “We have over 18 different flavors just in snack sticks alone,” Hetherman notes. These include jala­peno – with real jalapeno pepper pieces in it – teriyaki, honey turkey and all-beef pepperoni, among others.

Smoke Gets in Your Sausage

Sparrer Sausage Co. also prides itself on its use of natural hickory smoking instead of liquids to flavor its products. “For most products, it takes anywhere from 18 to 24 hours in a smoker to make the product – you can tell the difference in the flavor,” Hetherman insists. “We’ve done testing with our custo­mers and compared ourselves to the national brands, and hands-down we won from a flavor and preference stand­point for our products.” Among its smoked products are open-rack St. Louis-style ribs that it manufactures for a private-label gift packer, who sells these on the Internet and through its catalogs.

Although Sparrer Sausage Co. does not ordinarily assemble gift packs, it has been producing them for Walmart for the last 14 years that feature the company’s sausages and crackers and mustard from other suppliers. Sparrer assembles only a few gift trays but supplies its gourmet line of sausages to many gift basket assemblers. Its deli sausages are supplied to deli counters in weights of up to 8 pounds.

Packaging is Key

Sparrer Sausage Co. has been working almost 20 years with Prairie State Group, Franklin Park, Ill., on its packaging. To­gether they have been able to develop innovative designs for their films and labels. “In today’s market, the packaging is highly influential to the sales of consumer snack and sausage items – for example, all the company’s snack pro­ducts have high-impact graphics and easy-peel packaging,” Hetherman notes.

“One of the advantages we have working with companies like Prairie State is that they are very innovative and able to meet our needs in a quick timeline, keeping us ahead of the competition,” Hetherman adds. “They give us a lot of creative ideas in packaging, films and labeling. Having a relationship like that with a great supplier is key to being able to quickly launch products into the market.”