High-protein meat snacks address shoppers’ “better-for-you” wants, and grow meat snack sales.
By Pat Pape, Contributing Editor
When Scott Zaremba, CEO of Lawrence, Kan.-based Zarco USA, built his newest convenience outlet, he included a sit-down barbecue restaurant. Immediately, Stanley James Smokehouse, which combines the first names of his and his business partner’s dads, inspired an entirely new business operation: fresh, homemade, all-beef jerky.
“We’ve sold beef jerky for 35 years,” Zaremba said. “As we progressed into the barbeque-cooked-on-site restaurant concept, beef jerky was just a natural fit for what we’re doing. We have all the materials, technology and licensing in order to be able to create our own jerky.”
The licensing is necessary because, in addition to selling jerky in his own stores, Zaremba plans to package the product and offer it to other retailers in three flavors: regular, spicy and “fire.”
“Beef jerky has always been a good seller in the Midwest,” Zaremba said. “Some small, private-label locals have come and gone over the years, and we knew there was a market for it. We have the product and ability, and it’s a good profit margin item. It’s just a matter of being able to produce a consistent, quality product that is better than the vacuum-packed stuff that comes in on the national level.”
Meat snacks are often high-protein, shelf-stable, portable and ready to eat, but they’re not all alike.
In fact, the definition of “meat snack” is changing as several manufacturers introduce novel products, such as trail mix, that use meat as an ingredient. Consumers can select from a variety of formats, such as dried meat shaped like a stick, chunks, cubes, shreds and bars, plus strips made from thin meat slices pressed together.
According to a recent report from Nielsen, the meat snack category has experienced compound annual sales growth of 7% or more over the past four years, with total sales rising 3.5 % in 2017. The consumer research firm adds that among ethnic groups, Asian-American households spend the most each year on meat snacks—an average of $31.61 annually.
The most common jerky meats are beef and turkey, Nielsen reported, but other exotic options range from alligator and alpaca to buffalo, duck and fish.
This past December, Mintel researchers surveyed meat-snack consumers to gauge their preferences. Among the findings, more than half of those respondents ages 18 and older want to purchase products made from prime cuts. Of those aged 35-54, 54% said they prefer Asian-flavored products, including teriyaki jerky, and 45% want jerky made from grass-fed beef.
Forty-two percent of meat-snack shoppers aged 18-34 like preservative-free offerings, while 45% said they would purchase jerky as a snack bar-style product.
VARIETY AND FLAVOR
Today’s consumers demand variety in almost everything, and meat snacks are no exception. While beef and turkey continue to be the most frequently purchased jerky products, some c-store retailers offer meat snacks featuring both unique flavors and exotic meats.
Between sticks and bags of jerky, Rutter’s, the York, Pa.-based chain, presents customers with 100-plus meat snack SKUs.
“We carry a wide variety in our stores compared to what I see from others in the industry,” said Joe Bortner, category supervisor at Rutter’s. “We have a few options that could be categorized as ‘different.’ This past year, we added Lorissa’s Kitchen to our mix, which calls out grass-fed, no hormones, MSG or preservatives. This adds a new layer into our mix that you may not find in your everyday set.”
In addition, Rutter’s recently announced a strategic effort to source more local products and has partnered with a local farm to offer venison jerky, “a central Pennsylvania favorite,” Bortner said.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Pilot Flying J, which operates more than 750 travel center locations in 43 states, also carries an abundant selection of meat snacks.
“But we find that our guests enjoy the standard, original, teriyaki and peppered flavors the most,” said Chris Cope, senior category manager for Pilot. “While men remain the majority purchasing jerky products, new brands, such as Krave and Lorissa’s Kitchen, have different flavor profiles that appeal to a different audience, and that helps to bridge the consumer gap.”
Fast Break, a 27-store chain based in Klamath Falls, Ore. has a customer base of “outdoors men and women who enjoy hunting, mountain biking and hiking,” said Michael Cordonnier, category manager/buyer for Fast Break.
“You’re starting to see more customers migrating to better-for-you,” said Cordonnier. “I’m not saying ‘healthy,’ because I don’t know of a convenience health store that’s really killing it. But, people are making a conscious effort to choose better products, and jerky is a better product. People are willing to spend a little more for a better product.”
In addition to stocking many national brands, Fast Break stores carry meat snacks from Pearson Ranch, a New Mexico company that manufacturers jerky made from elk, buffalo, venison or wild boar, all of it free of nitrites, MSG and gluten. Pearson Ranch raises much of its meat on its two ranches—one in New Mexico and another in Missouri.
Bulk bags of jerky have been a boon for Fast Break. “When I first started, we hardly sold any 10-ounce bags [of jerky], but the larger bags have really taken off for us,” said Cordonnier. “I love the basket rings that come with our jerky. Rarely do you see someone come in and buy just a 2.5-ounce bag of jerky.”
Plus, the typical jerky customer usually walks away with a drink, such as an isotonic, energy drink or Gatorade, he said.
To keep meat snacks in front of customers, Fast Break merchandises the products both on end caps and inline, and hangs danglers over promoted items. “In the past, I’ve done a lot of bundling,” said Cordonnier, who also uses window posters to communicate with shoppers.
Fast Break also relies on its own website, social media and the company’s loyalty program, Pay Day Rewards, to showcase special offers and let shoppers know of bargains. Customers who have given prior permission also receive email announcements about food and drink specials.
“The meat snack category is quickly evolving with new brands and flavors,” said Cope. “And pack types are branching into other categories, such as trail mixes, meat chips and meat bars that continue to expand the consumer demographics and keep them engaged.”
As the category continues to evolve, the options for changing consumer preferences continues to grow, said Bortner.