Today’s meat snack consumers are seeking protein on the go, a need that goes hand-in-hand with a trend toward healthier lifestyles.
And gone are the days where a cylinder near the front counter featuring a single flavor of beef sticks fuels meat snack impulse buys. Customers want more variety when it comes to meat snack flavors and more types of protein, too.
“I’m getting a health-conscious group who are going for proteins,” said Scott Zaremba of Zarco USA, of his meat snack customers. Zaremba owns two c-stores in Lawrence, Kan. He added that, for the most part, this health-conscious group is made up of millennial shoppers.
Meat snack manufacturers are responding to these shifting customer demands with a wide array of new products to satisfy an evolving market.
The U.S. is the largest meat snack market in the world, according to the Mordor Intelligence report “Meat Snacks Market – Growth, Trends and Forecasts (2019-2024).
A 2018 trend insight report by FONA International, “Meat Snacks: Accelerated Opportunity,” points to meat snacks as the fastest growing snack food. Growing along with it have been form and flavor options.
While mainstream flavors like teriyaki, sweet barbecue and pepper continue to entice customers, manufacturers are also debuting flavors like pepper pineapple chili, chicken sriracha, cilantro lime turkey and bison bacon cranberry. Jerky is mixing it up too, with options like jerky trail mix, featuring jerky, dried fruit and nuts mixed together. Other varieties include jerky combined with cheese cubes and chocolate-covered pretzels.
While beef rules the barnyard and chicken, pork and turkey are familiar choices, the explosion in taste options is nearly matched by novel protein offerings as seen in lamb, elk and venison jerky. One brand offers a blend of pork and either alligator or kangaroo. There’s Australian Wagyu beef (a Japanese breed of cattle) and also biltong jerky, which uses an African curing process to create a more tender meat snack compared to traditional jerky.
And don’t count out non-meat eaters. Plant-based jerky options replicate the texture of meat using coconut, mushroom and jackfruit, among other ingredients. These products open up sales to vegetarian and vegan consumers looking for the same benefits and tastes as meat snack consumers.
Americans see meat snacks as basic food products, Morder reported. So it’s not surprising they’ve come to expect the same things of the category as other foods — translation: More choices.
Zaremba noted the meat snacks trends he sees are similar to those in other categories today. “Everybody is trying every flavor, and everything they can think of to help expand their market share,” he said.
As meat snack manufacturers focus on long-term strategies that include expanding flavor and product varieties, it’s creating an opportunity to entice nontraditional meat snack consumers to the category.
“I’m getting a lot of the mothers buying for the kids,” said Zaremba. “So again, they’re looking at that and trying to get them a little healthier choice of protein.”
While men have traditionally been the category’s target market, 20% of women say they eat meat snacks, according to the FONA report. Darren Seiffer, food industry analyst with market research company The NPD Group, said there may be an opportunity there.
“But you know it’s not just men who are seeking more protein and trying to avoid sugars in their diet,” said Seiffer. “We see women trying to get fit, as well. We see more and more of them trying to do some more strength training, and so meat snacks do provide benefits that women are seeking, as well.”
By increasing the options, meat snacks have increased their product appeal to women. Some retailers, FONA reported, are already targeting active women who are looking for a healthy snack. That dovetails with opportunities to elevate some of these newfangled meat snack choices to premium status.
“So (meat snacks are) sensible, in the sense that they do provide the protein, and they have a health halo around them,” said Seiffer. “But where they might have some opportunities is to provide a little bit of a sense of an indulgence at the same time.”
The convergence of these two motivations — health and indulgence — is going to become even bigger over the next few years, he added.
For c-stores, the countless options now available in the category for consumers may also be the key to expanding sales of meat snacks to a broader consumer demographic. It boils down to one conclusion: There’s opportunity in meat snacks.