Meat snacks are evolving to accommodate consumers’ changing tastes and ingredient preferences.
By Lisa White, Contributing Editor
Meat snacks seem to be tailor-made for the convenience channel. This is a food that has widespread appeal, is satiating and easy to grab and eat on the go.
Even with consumer tastes veering toward low-calorie, high-protein foods, meat snacks, and in particular jerky lines, fit the bill. Yet, despite the year-round popularity of these products, some retailers see sales spikes during certain times of the year.
“Hunting season is our high point for meat snacks,” said William Baine, CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based Git ‘N Go Market, which has about 40 stores in Iowa and Illinois. “We are running relevant promotions to target hunters during this time.”
Meat snacks remain the top seller in c-store alternative snacks, with sales racking up more than double that of health, energy and protein bars. In the 52 weeks ending Sept. 22, 2018, meat snack sales in convenience stores totaled over $1.5 billion, a 3.6% increase from the same period in 2017, according to research firm The Nielsen Co. Unit volume during this period was just over 1 billion, almost a 2% drop from the prior year.
Yet, in North America, this alternative snack category is expected to record a compound annual growth of 7.2% between 2018 and 2023, according to market research firm Mordor Intelligence. Jerky consumption is high among the developed markets, with U.S. beef jerky sales growing by nearly 7% in 2017.
American households spend an average of $25.81 per year on meat snacks. Their per-trip spend on sticks and jerky at $7.42 is also about twice as much as it is on staples like potato chips, which is at $3.61, and popcorn, which totals $4.01, according to Nielsen. In terms of age groups, baby boomers are the biggest buyers, spending $28.48 per year, making them 10% more likely to buy meat snacks than the average shopper.
A GROWING CATEGORY
A staple c-store category, meat snacks continues evolving, as consumers look to get more for their money with these products.
“One trend that I’ve seen making waves are items that provide a value to the consumer,” said Joseph Bortner, category supervisor at York, Pa.-based Rutter’s, which has about 70 locations. “Larger pack types that showcase the products have been a huge part of our success in meat snacks. Consumers are willing to spend more when there’s a value in price per ounce. The days of large packaging with 75% air are in the past. Consumers know the game; they want to see and feel what they’re getting.”
Although this mainstay segment isn’t seeing much growth in year-over- year sales, meat sticks are seeing a greater increase that may be due to new product development.
“From a format standpoint, meat sticks are growing more so compared to jerky,” said Maria Steingoltz, managing director at London-based L.E.K. Consulting. “Jerky is primarily beef, but other proteins like chicken, higher- end buffalo, venison and elk, are on the rise. In the sticks format, even turkey is showing growth as well as bacon.”
Manufacturers and retailers are seeing added interest in hot and spicy flavors for both jerky and meat sticks.
“On the flavor side, original jerky from a volume standpoint has seen less growth, but pepper and spicier flavors like chili have had increased growth on the jerky side,” said Steingoltz.
Where in the past individually-wrapped sticks and jerky were top sellers in c-stores, the climate is shifting to bulk offerings of weight-based meat snacks merchandised in bins or jars.
“Yet, packaging for individually-wrapped products has become more upscale,” Steingoltz said. She added that in the last couple of years, meat snacks are on promotion in c-stores 25% of the time versus 50% in the grocery channel.
“Consumers in c-stores are more impulse buyers, so promos are not used as much to incentivize purchases,” said Steingoltz.
Melissa McPherson, category manager at Tonawanda, N.Y.-based NOCO Energy Corp., which operates a 30-store chain, sees a number of trends in meat snacks.
“First, you have people looking for more protein,” McPherson said. “Meat snacks are a perfect fit for these customers. Slim Jim Giants sticks have about six grams of protein and Jack Link’s has around 11 grams.”
As for NOCO’s top sellers, overall sticks outperform the bags, with Slim Jim owning this segment as the chain’s number on selling item. With bagged jerky, NOCO’s biggest mover is Jack Link’s Teriyaki. However, both brands are starting to see competition from Dukes, Lorrrisa’s and Oberto.
Meat snack merchandising is pretty straightforward at NOCO’s stores.
“For the sticks, we utilize a lay-down rack in the majority of the stores,” said McPherson. “This is a great way to merchandise the product. It shows customers the full length of the product and is visually very appealing. Bags of jerky and sticks are pegged over this for a clean, inviting look.”
There have been a number of key developments in the meat snack segment recently, including acquisitions.
In mid-April, Premium Brands Holdings Corp., Vancouver, B.C., reached an agreement to acquire the assets and operating divisions of Oberto Brands, the Kent, Wash.-based manufacturer of beef jerky. Financial terms were not disclosed.
This follows Slim Jim maker ConAgra’s acquisition of Duke’s last summer and Hershey’s purchase of Krave, which was finalized in 2016.
New product developments in the segment also have changed the landscape in c-stores. Much of the meat snack innovations has focused on new flavors and heathier ingredients.
Although flavors like teriyaki, pepper and Tabasco always resonate with customers, McPherson sees flavors like ginger, peach and chorizo on the rise.
“For years, our market had been dominated by Slim Jim and Jack Link’s,” she said. “These new players have been adding some new dynamics to things and have really been attracting new customers to this category. Lorrissa’s is really trying to appeal to the female shoppers, which I don’t think has been done before.”
Earlier this year, Jack Link’s, Minong, Wis., added several products including three varieties of Lorissa’s Kitchen Beef Sticks in original, smoky sweet and jalapeño flavors, and Jack Link’s Cold Crafted, a new line of portable snacks with smoked meat sticks, and smoked meat sticks and cheese in the mix.
Chef’s Cut Real Jerky this past summer unveiled its Korean BBQ Chicken Jerky. Other newer launches include both Pepperoni Snack Sticks and Mini Snack Sticks in a 0.5-ounce size.
Some meat snacks aim to appeal with cleaner labels.“Duke’s and Lorrisa’s Kitchen have no added hormones or artificial preservatives,” said McPherson. “These have been gaining traction.”