By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor
Whether consumers are choosing them to get a convenient boost of protein or to quell between-meal hunger pangs, meat snacks in a growing variety of forms and flavors are continuing to climb the ranks in the on-the-go snack category.
As of July 1, 2017, meat snacks generated $1.4 billion in c-stores, a hike of 3.2% over the previous year, reported Nielsen Co. in its Total U.S. Convenience Channel View.
For the 52 weeks ending Sept. 9, 2017, Nielsen revealed that meat snacks are a 9% share of the on-the-go snacking category within the convenience channel, growing at a rate of 5% or $547 million over the past year. That’s an impressive increase, especially because total on-the-go snacking rose 1.2%, said Carl Elliott, Nielsen’s director of convenience retail.
Elliott pointed out that meat snacks are the third most important on-the-go snack category in the convenience channel with a 14% share, the same share as salty snacks, and trailing only confections and baked goods.
“Meat snacks have an advantage because 39% more food items with ‘high protein’ claims are selling now vs. four years ago,” said Elliott. “The health halo over meat snacks makes this category a great one for the convenience channel because 44.2% of consumers are willing to pay a premium price at the convenience store for a more healthful snack.”
A March report from Nielsen showed that jerky had a particularly strong year, showing a sales growth of nearly 7%. At the same time, stick sales were flat.
Those are the trends that category manager Ian Stewart has seen at Gassaway, W. Va.-based Go-Mart stores. But the big story at Go-Mart, which has 23 stores in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia, is the fact that meat snacks have become a high-ring item since a year ago when sales of 10-ounce bags of Oberto Cattleman’s Cut jerky in original, teriyaki and peppered steakhouse flavors caught fire.
“We were surprised at the success of the 10-ounce bag because we had tried to sell larger bags before and they didn’t go so well,” said Stewart. “We figured that the price points were too high.”
At an “everyday low price” of $11.99, the Cattleman’s Cut is still a high ring, but Stewart attributes at least part of the positive customer response to the attractiveness of the product in its see-through bag. The reduced price (the jerky retails for $15.99 on Oberto’s web shopping site) is part of a promotion with the manufacturer, one that Stewart is eager to continue into 2018.
According to a Nielsen Grocery/Convenience report for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 21, 2017, Stewart is not alone in seeing a surge in large-bag sales. Extra-large (XL) 10-12-ounce packages make up 23% of jerky sales and, reported a Nielsen Convenience year-to-date study ending Nov. 18, 2017, the three top growth brands are all packaged in clear, XL bags.
Ted Roccagli, director of partnerships and preferred vendor program for Empire Petroleum Partners, which services c-stores in 30 states and operates 80 of its own, agreed that large value clear bags are gaining in popularity, especially the 10-ounce packages from Cattleman’s Cut and Old Trapper. Brands like Chef’s Cut are also gaining momentum.
“Clear is what consumers are looking for,” Roccagli said. “They want to see exactly what they’re buying.”
BRINGING THE HEAT
As far as flavors go, heat sells, he said. Even the traditional sticks are getting sassy with spicy seasonings such as Tabasco and nacho.
At Go-Mart, customers are willing to try something new as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the familiar, Stewart said. A 10-ounce sausage stick from Cattleman’s Cut recently sold so well in Go-Mart stores during testing that it earned a place on the stores’ planogram, Stewart pointed out. He added that a pepperoni jerky recently debuted by Oberto will likely follow suit.
“But flavors like Korean BBQ are too far out for most of our customers,” Stewart said.
Anna Bettencourt, snack category manager for VERC Enterprises, with 26 stores (24 in southeastern Massachusetts, one in southern New Hampshire and one superette), thinks she played it a little too close to the vest when it came to meat snack forms and flavors in 2017. But she has a far different game plan in mind for 2018.
“I stayed mostly with the core SKUs—original, teriyaki and peppered—and had growth in the category, but probably not what I would have had if I would have tried a few more bolder flavors in shippers,” Bettencourt said. “This year, I’m looking to create a more diverse profile.”
She is specifically looking to Jack Link’s and Conagra’s recently acquired Duke’s brand for product diversity and innovation because “they’re doing some very interesting stuff” such as Jack Link’s Tender Bites and a meat bar, both departures from the brand’s top-selling stick and Duke’s Shorty Sausages in “cool flavors” like chorizo lime and tomato basil. Also, newer brands such as Jack Link’s-owned Larissa’s Kitchen are creating their own niches with younger and female consumers by using brighter packaging, calling out health benefits such as high protein and low carbs, and offering unique flavor profiles, said Bettencourt.
Targeting consumers who are more health-conscious and/or adventurous of palate are jerkys that are positioned as more upscale and gourmet such as Hershey’s Krave brand meat snacks and the small but growing Perky Jerky brand, said Roccagli. And, he added, snackers looking for a serious kick in the tastebuds are finding it in the pickled sausage offerings from Penrose, another Conagra brand. These snacks flaunt their bold flavors with names like Big Mama, Tijuana Mama and Firecracker.
While flavor is certainly a major factor and attention to the “better-for-you” positioning by some brands is drawing in new age and gender demographics, for most customers, the convenience of meat snacks is their main selling point.
“They’re satisfying enough to hold you over between meals, say if you just got out of work and you have to pick the kids up from practice,” said VERC’s Bettencourt. “You can drive while you eat it, making it the perfect snack on the go.”
To maximize customer exposure to the wide array of meat snack options, Roccagli recommends displaying them on an end cap as well as inline displays.
“On an end cap, the dollar density [sales per square inch] is huge,” he explained.
In half of her stores, depending on the percentage of sales the category accounts for and customer traffic flow, Bettencourt displays meat snacks on end caps.
If there is one thing Bettencourt would ask of suppliers and brokers, it would be that they provide more information about the markets and customer bases surrounding her stores.
“Our store in Boston, for example, is in a spicy market,” she said. “That kind of information would help us to more accurately choose the products and flavor profiles that are most likely to sell in our stores.”