Meat Snacks Show Punch

Meat snacks continue selling strong in the convenience channel, as consumers seek options for heartier foods offering better nutrition.

By Lisa White, Contributing Editor

Meat snack makers are using versatility to their advantage, as the retail category continues to draw a wider customer base seeking portable protein solutions.

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According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, sales of the meat snacks category in c-stores totaled close to $1.6 billion in the 52 weeks ending Nov. 4, 2018, a 3.7% increase from the same period the previous year.

Shifting consumer preferences have helped shape the marketplace.

“Women are now significant buyers in the category,” said David Wolf, category manager for 7-Eleven Inc. “Premium, better-for-you brands with new bolder and spicier flavors are becoming more popular. In the mainstream brands, larger bags that are 10-plus ounces are driving the dollar growth in the category.”

At 7-Eleven, Jack Link’s dominates the market, especially in bags, while Slim Jim is a big player in sticks. Staple flavors are original, Teriyaki and peppered.

“New flavors making waves in c-stores include Hatch Chile, Jalapeño and Hot & Spicy,” said Wolf. “Protein has become big business, being added to everything from chocolate bars to drinks. But it is hard to think of it being in a purer form than a piece of dried beef, which has also allowed jerky to tap into trends, such as the meat-heavy Paleo diet.”

It is evident that the focus on healthier eating and protein is continuing to fuel this category.

“We have a private brand line co-branded with Jack Link’s that is doing very well,” Wolf said. “We are also seeing nice increases in the Duke’s brand.”

Derek Gaskins, senior vice president of merchandising and procurement at Des Moines, Iowa-based Yesway, concurs that the high consumer demand is pushing the profitable category forward.

“It is largely driven by the perceived health benefits associated with high-protein and low-calorie foods,” Gaskins said. “The category continues to gain unit, sales and margin growth.”

Yesway, a 150-store chain with locations in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico, views the snacking category as an opportunity to expand its private-label portfolio and is moving quickly with its own proprietary line of meat snacks for 2019—part of its new proprietary private brand catalog.

“We are excited about the pipeline of innovative, indulgent and high-quality meat snacks we are developing,” Gaskins said.

When looking at the three most common forms of jerky—bulk, bagged and sticks—all three have opportunities within convenience. He added that new products that deliver on health perceptions with real ingredients, simple labels and bold flavors are growing exponentially.

Ashley Davis, the buyer for food and candy for Marine Corps Exchange (MCX), which includes 18 locations on U.S. military bases, said product freshness is “in.”

“In better for you, it’s jerky made with clean ingredients, high protein, functional protein and additional health benefits beyond nutrition,” Davis said. “In on-the-go, portable meat snacks, consumers can find more meat snack options in tubes for instant consumption, for those constantly on the move and at a low price point.”
She also is seeing potential in larger sizes, including 10-ounce bags.

“More brands are offering larger bags because they are more convenient for the consumer who makes regular purchases,” she said. “Also, it shows a better value with the price point.”

Staple meat snacks at the MCX continue to be Jack Link’s bagged jerky, 14-ounce pounders and Slim Jim sticks. The most popular flavors are Original and Teriyaki, but Smokehouse/Hickory Smoke, Korean BBQ, Chipotle, Buffalo and Sweet & Spicy are big sellers, as well.

At Team Oil Travel Center, a convenience retailer in Spring Valley, Wis., fresh-made meat snacks from a local supplier and meat sticks from an area butcher shop are top choices.

“It seems like the fresher the product tastes, the better,” said Eric Huppert, Team Oil’s president. “Our top six meat snack sellers are from a Wisconsin-based meat market and butcher shop one town over that are refrigerated. Everyone is getting into the business; we meet with new meat snack vendors monthly.”

Price is not necessarily a deciding factor in the meat snacks space, which is good news for c-store retailers, as is product appeal.
For example, Stryve Biltong is a line garnering interest in the market.

“A similar sensibility lies behind the new Stryve Biltong Snacks’ trail mix blends, which are launching at Army Airforce Exchange Service locations before rolling out to c-stores around the U.S. early next year,” said Daniel Levine, director at The Avant-Guide Institute, a trends consultancy in New York. “Each is made with beef biltong, which is South African-style jerky. Clocking in at 20 grams of protein per packet, these are savory snack mixes that combine seeds, nuts and aged meat in a trio of flavors, the most awesome of which is dark chocolate.”

Although there is a sharp focus on healthier eating and protein fueling, quality, taste and value are also key considerations at MCX, Davis said.

“The focus is on providing healthy items with familiar flavors that taste good,” Davis said. “Individuals are looking for natural or ‘real food’ products, like jerky made with 100% beef. The meat snacks category gains new consumers by providing alternative proteins and new product benefits.”

Retailers can designate a couple of places in their c-stores to draw patrons.

Though 7-Eleven continues merchandising meat snacks in a three-foot display section at many locations, the chain is looking to expand its meat snacks appeal this year.

“We’re also looking at new fixtures to better merchandise the sticks,” said Wolf. “Our [meat snack] promotions have been through reduced retails. (In 2019), we are looking at doing more buy-one item, get a second, different item free, or at reduced retail.”
MCX has cross merchandised meat snacks using clip strips, placing pre-loaded clip strips in various locations.

At Team Oil, shelf-stable meat snacks are merchandised. Refrigerated meat snacks are placed in an open cooler by the front counter or by the beverage cooler.

“We use Scan Group for our back-office software, and they’re working on ways to do cross promotions with items like meat snacks, otherwise it’s too cumbersome for us,” Huppert said. “We will probably do more cross promotions, most likely with beverages. We’d drive it with buy a single container of beer and get a discount on meat snacks.”
For the new year, 7-Eleven is optimistic meat snacks will perform heartily.

“We are predicting a 5-6% sales increase in our stores,” Wolf said.