Meat snacks appeal to consumers for a lot of reasons, and each of them presents opportunities for c-store operators to bolster sales.
By Howard Riell, Associate Editor
Most snackers prefer savory quality, robust flavors, inherent convenience, relatively low price points, health benefits and, of course, related promotions. Savvy retailers know how to take the best advantage of each with category management and merchandising.
There appears to be no place for the meat snacks category to go but up. Chicago-based market research firm IRI reported sales of jerky between 2009-2015 jumped 46%. Last year, Americans spent $2.8 billion on beef jerky.
For the convenience store channel for the 52-week period ending May 15, 2016, according to IRI data, dried meat snacks notched sales of more than $1.5 billion, a year-to year-increase of 3.27%. Sales of jerky approached $667 million, with year-to-year figures dipping slightly.
Leading brands include Jack Link’s, Old Trapper, Oberto and Frito Lay. Newcomers like Chef’s Cut are also making inroads at c-stores.
Private-label jerky recorded sales of more than $17.5 million, down 6.68% during the period. All Other Dried Meat Snacks contributed just over $846 million, up 6.19%. Leading dried meat brands included Slim Jim at nearly $314 million and Jack Link’s at nearly $255 million.
Jerky (42%) held the largest value share of “other” sweet and savory snacks in 2015, according to Marissa Bosler, communication executive for Euromonitor International, and served as the primary driver of growth in the category. Jack Link’s and Slim Jim, the two leading meat snack brands, have found success through marketing to their core audience of younger male consumers.
“Jerky’s high protein content also serves as an appetite suppressant and energy booster, which has further fueled jerky’s growth as a smart snacking option,” Bosler said.
Put it all together and the meat snacks category is one that U.S. c-store consumers are devouring, which translates to opportunities aplenty for c-store operators.
Andy’s Express, a 5,125-square-foot freestanding convenience store connected to a car dealership in an affluent section of Lincoln, Neb., has found meat snacks to be a strong category. The store enjoys a wide assortment of customer demographics, with younger consumers over drinking age comprising the bulk of its business.
“And,” said spokesperson Karolyn Johnston-Pethoud, “they buy their jerky.”
Owner Mike Anderson, who also owns the car dealership, Anderson Auto Group, operates a second, satellite c-store at another of his dealerships several miles north.
Johnston-Pethoud said that Tillamook is the store’s best-seller, largely on the strength of its freshness perception.
“It’s not prepackaged; it comes inside a display case that customers can reach into with tongs and take for themselves,” Johnston-Pethoud said. “You pick out which one you want, bag it and away you go. (Customers) enjoy grabbing a big fat slab of meat. It’s sold by the piece for $2.75 each, and it is a better price point for customers. It has proven to be a little more inviting.”
The product selection includes beef, turkey and barbecued pork. Interestingly, Johnston-Pethoud does not believe that flavor variety is all that important to her customers. “No one has really come up and said anything about it. But if someone said, ‘Hey, why don’t you have this,’ we would have it the next time they came in.”
Most of the meat snacks are merchandised in the candy and chip aisle. The Tillamook merchandiser is located close to the unit’s foodservice offerings, which include roasted chicken and pizza and, in the coming months, deli sandwiches and salads.
There is also a large endcap display close to the Pepsi beverages that features Pepsi’s proprietary Hungry McGee Snack Sticks. Priced at just 99 cents each, they come in Original, Jalapeño, Teriyaki, Sweet ‘n Sassy, Peppered BBQ and Peppered Bacon flavors.
“Spicy is the thing right now,” said Johnston-Pethoud, “at least in my neighborhood. Sriracha is really popular over here. Teriyaki is kind of out. That was a big thing at one time, but it’s not so big anymore.”
Pepsi provides point-of-sale merchandising materials, together with a promotional offer for a 50-cent discount on jerky with the purchase of a 12-pack of soda.
“They are the ones who come up with promotional material ideas more than I do,” said Johnston-Pethoud. “I’m just the pusher to get it in the door.” Any and all promotional activities are welcome, she added.
“If there is any kind of coupon I’ll take it,” Johnston-Pethoud said. “It doesn’t hurt us any. It’s one more step toward the register. It’s going to make the customer happy, and I still get my money back on it.”
Johnston-Pethoud advises other c-store operators to offer a fresh jerky product.
“Customers like the fact that they are getting a fresher product, and not just something that has been prepackaged for a year,” she said. “I believe in having a couple of the big ones, and then finding a couple that are local, something that is going to mean something to your area.”
SOMETHING TO CHEW ON
Whitney Johnson, senior category manager for candy, snacks and HBC for Sunoco LP’s APlus and Stripes Convenience Stores in Dallas, has seen meat snack sales rise across the board. She credits manufacturers for embracing innovation.
“I know our manufacturers are doing a lot of investment into consumer trends,” Johnson said. “I have been very impressed with the innovation that I have been shown over the past year or two, whether it’s alternative meats, better-for-you meat snacks or just flavor profiles within traditional beef jerky.”
Johnson has made a concerted effort to watch both those products that are considered better for you and alternative meats like pork, turkey and chicken.
“Pork and turkey are the two that are doing really well for us,” Johnson said. “We’re seeing great double-digit growth in that category with the meat snacks.”
Johnson said she formulated a plan at Sunoco to grow her meat snack section two years ago, and that it is paying dividends. “With the growth that I saw in meat snacks in 2014, I launched a very large project in the first quarter of 2015 to make more room for alternative snacking, which includes meat snacks.”
The chain had been displaying five SKUs of meat snacks in a secondary merchandising position up at the front counter.
“Not all of them were the traditional beef jerky,” Johnson said. “Some of them are alternative better-for-you meats, and they are doing extremely well for me, so I am adding additional items to my store.”
One item that has done exceptionally well for her stores has been the higher-end Lorissa’s Kitchen launch from Minong, Wis.-based Jack Link’s. The line, which went national earlier this year, is made from 100% grass-fed beef that has been raised without added growth hormones, responsibly-raised pork and antibiotic-free chicken. Flavors like Korean BBQ Beef, Ginger Teriyaki Chicken, Sweet Chili Pork and Szechuan Peppercorn Beef all are preservative-free.
Johnson recommended that c-store retailers review their sets with an eye toward emerging trends. “They should make sure that they have what the consumer wants today and what the consumer wants a year from now. I can tell you that two years ago, only about 5% of my meat snack merchandising was alternative, and now it’s 25%, so that’s really growing.”
Alternative meats have fueled growth, she added.
“Two years ago I had one turkey SKU on the set and now I have a lot more—pork, chicken—and that’s the difference between 5% of the set and 25% of the set.” Johnson also suggested taking advantage of promotional activities.
“It is an expensive product and it’s worth it, but it can’t stay stagnant on the shelf,” Johnson said. “Participating in promotions to remind the customer to ask for the product helps.”