Meat snacks maintain their firm grasp as a top-selling segment.
By Anne Baye Ericksen, Contributing Editor
“This is not your grandfather’s jerky,” said Norman Deschamps, an independent market analyst working with Packaged Facts, a market research publisher.
Indeed, between people’s desire for protein, healthier snacks and premium products, the meat snacks category is undergoing a market makeover.
“Meat snacks right now are enjoying a cross piece of a couple of large trends in snacking. The first trend is healthier for you (HFY). The second is protein. Meat snacks are lucky to be in the middle of those,” Deschamps said.
Packaged Facts attributes 21% of all better-for-you (BFY) product sales to convenience stores.
The meat snacks category has been experiencing significant growth for the past few years. According to Packaged Facts, the segment jumped to $3.14 billion in 2015 from $2.9 billion in sales for 2014, an 8.6% increase. For 2016, dollar sales are projected to top $3.4 billion. If indications are correct, meat snacks could experience a 9.6% hike in retail sales over the next four years. By 2020, sales are expected to hit $5 billion.
The resurgence of meat snacks can be directly tied to the emergence of consumers’ desire for BFY food options. In years past, eating healthy meant counting calories and reaching for products labeled “diet” or “non-fat.” What’s different now is many American consumers are more concerned about reducing sugar in their diets while upping the protein factor.
“We’re having a backlash toward snacks high in sugar,” said Deschamps. “People are forgoing sweet snacks for savory snacks. That’s the current pendulum.”
Until recently, the demographic most concerned with protein was athletes. But as people have learned more about how protein helps abate hunger pangs between meals or snacks, the appeal of items such as jerky, meat sticks and meat bars is helping to redefine the category’s customer base. Nearly one-fourth of adults admit to checking nutrition labels for protein content, according to research by the NPD Group.
“Traditionally, the demographic associated with meat snacks has predominantly been males in the 18- to 45-year-old range. The marketing now is pushing more toward younger consumers and toward women,” Deschamps said. “The really strong group, in terms of more interest, is the active lifestyle group. They want more protein, but they are getting tired of protein powders and protein bars.”
Thusly, leaner meat proteins hold an enviable position.
“By elimination, meat snacks are a good choice,” he added. “In the minds of consumers, they think they’re choosing a healthier-for-you snack that is particularly high in protein, especially after the attention given to the sugar content of protein bars.”
“Also, stick customers differ from bagged jerky customers. People who buy bags are buying them because they’re perceived to be healthier. I think they’re specifically looking for protein,” said Anna Bettencourt, category specialist for VERC Enterprises, based in Duxbury, Mass.
Producers have stepped up efforts to capture this interest. For example, Perky Jerky offers turkey jerky that’s been marinated with guarana, which boasts two times the amount of caffeine as coffee beans and has been highlighted as a natural ingredient in energy drinks. Earlier this year, Jack Link’s introduced Lorissa’s Kitchen, a new brand catering to individuals with a sharp eye for the nutrition label and a discerning taste for flavor combinations. The jerky is made from grass-fed beef, antibiotic-free chicken and responsibly-raised pork. Current offerings include Szechuan Peppercorn, Sweet Chili, Ginger Teriyaki and Korean BBQ.
Bettencourt stocked the new jerky in all 24 VERC stores immediately after its release and is pleased with the customer response.
“Those are considered healthier because the beef is grass fed and the packaging calls out the protein. Also, Krave and Lorissa’s Kitchen are targeting more of a female audience. I definitely see changes demographic wise,” she said.
Brands like Krave and Lorissa’s Kitchen also are driving another trend: artisanal recipes or handcrafted production processes. The consensus among analysts is that this development follows in the footsteps of handcrafted, artisanal beers.
“That’s how marketers define products. It’s not only the type of meat, but the cut of meat that’s being promoted and the batch process or unique ingredients, such as insect protein. This is something for the new millennium,” said Deschamps.
Mintel Group Ltd. reported that at the National Confectioners Association’s 2016 Sweet & Snacks Expo, the buzz about meat snacks centered on hybrid products that combined jerky with other popular snacks, including trail mixes or trail cookies and even chocolate.
Of course, intriguing flavor profiles keep attracting customers.
“Krave is the brand that offers the most variety of flavors. We carry Orange Pineapple, Black Cherry and Chili Lime. For that line, the Sweet Chipotle is the bestseller,” Bettencourt said. “It depends on the area, too. For example, where there are a lot of Brazilian folks, they tend to like the spicy stuff. In other stores, though, that doesn’t necessarily move as quickly.”
That same line of thought applies to younger patrons.
“I think Millennials are trying new things and new flavor combinations. I think we will continue to see different flavor combinations as the category evolves,” Bettencourt said.
Evidence suggests customers looking for protein-packed meat snacks are willing to pay higher prices. Deschamps emphasized the importance of acknowledging this distinction when designing displays.
“Keep the more expensive meat snacks where you have other active lifestyle components. Put them near Gatorade or nuts and other snacks and single-serving items that cater to active lifestyle people,” he explained.
However, don’t forget the traditional meat snack customers who are more likely to make an impulse purchase than other customers.
“People randomly picking up a meat snack are more influenced by price,” said Deschamps. “If you place the more expensive premium bars upfront where there’s limited space, these customers will see the price point and ignore them.”
“Slim Jim sticks are very big sellers for us. Jack Link’s is big for sticks, too. In terms of units, we sell more in sticks because I think there’s a substantial dollar difference. Slim Jim sells two for $1,” said Bettencourt.
By any measurement, the growing popularly of meat snacks and other high-protein products is still on the upswing, and it’s drawing in new players. Technavio estimated the U.S. meat snacks category expanded by 12-15% in 2015 because of new product launches. In addition to Jack Link’s Lorissa’s Kitchen, Oberto released Cattleman’s Cut, and those are just two examples.
Major food producers have entered the market, too. Last year, Hershey acquired Krave. This year, General Mills purchased Epic Provisions, which debuted three bars in May: Salmon with Sea Salt; Venison with Sea Salt and Pepper; and Wild Boar with Uncured Bacon. It also released a new flavor of jerky bites, Salmon Maple and Dill.
“I see so many new ideas, and I’m seeing new companies doing well being bought out by bigger companies that want to get into the meat snack space,” said Deschamps. “That will tail off in 3-4 years even before the growth rate will peak for sales. At that point, there will be fewer new products and companies going into the market because the bigger ones will be buying them and consolidating them.”
For the near future, c-stores can expect meat snacks to continue riding the BFY wave as more Millennials and persons of all ages seek out high-protein, low-sugar snack alternatives.