Meat snacks and salty snacks remain huge categories for convenience stores, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As customers and retailers finally put 2020 in the rearview mirror, both categories are anticipated to continue their strong performance in 2021.
For the 52 weeks ending Nov. 1, 2020, the c-store channel saw dried meat snack sales hit $1.8 billion, a 4.9% increase over the previous year, according to market research firm IRI. Jerky sales topped $777 million, up 3.3%. For the same period, IRI saw salty snack sales reach nearly $5.6 billion, a decrease of 4.7%, due in part to greater competition, especially from healthier snacks.
Potato chip sales rang in at $1.7 billion, down 6.5%, while cheese snack sales saw less of a decline — just 1.4%, at more than $803 million. Pretzel sales topped $246 million but saw a 6.4% year-over-year drop for the same period.
The pandemic is taking its toll.
Mintel Group Ltd. noted that if the lockdowns stretch on for one to two years, “an economic downturn will have consumers reining in nonessential purchases, such as snacks. For consumers financially impacted, trading down or cutting back will likely occur.”
For the foreseeable future, meat snacks will continue to show steady growth, according to Kaitlin Wolfe, vice president of merchandising for Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America, which operates 271 locations in 44 states and Canada. “Grab-and-go protein snacks will continue to rise in popularity, which will continue to accelerate as we navigate through the pandemic.”
Additional trends will include innovation and proliferation of bolder flavor offerings, alternative proteins including plant-based, and the interest in immune-boosting, high-protein meat and protein/energy bar snacks. Larger pack sizes will continue to grow in popularity along with the shift into pre-packaged, alternative meals and meal replacement.
“While there may be a struggle in multiple daypart traffic,” Wolfe noted, “we expect to continue experiencing increased basket sizes due to guests stocking up during their trip.”
Meat snacks will, indeed, continue to be a growth driver in 2021, agreed Randy Demster, a buyer for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). The Exchange operates 122 main stores and 589 convenience stores. The natural organic and sugar-free meat snacks will fuel buying as more customers look for healthier options.
“Upsizing is the biggest trend in the meat snack category,” Demster said. “Extra-large, value-size meat sticks saw strong growth and sales in 2020, and this trend should continue into 2021.”
Country Archer and Cattleman’s Cut brands are helping lead this growth, and the 10-ounce size is very popular. Window clings, column communicators and pumptoppers have also worked well to drive sales growth for the Exchange.
“We are giving more space on our planograms to value bags and healthier meat snacks options,” Demster said.
Badih El-Nemr, executive vice president of Nouria Energy in Worcester, Mass., has found that $1-off promotions across various sizes of jerky products work very well.
“Jerky sticks really drive the business with a lot of space,” El-Nemr said. “The 10-ounce Old Trapper does not have much space, but at the high ticket, it drives gross profit dollars.”
The popularity of salty snacks is growing because of what Dragana Ilic, a buyer for AAFES, called “the ‘snackification’ of American diets.”
“Most consumers snack multiple times each day, most commonly midday and evenings,” Ilic said.
C-store customers continue to demand healthier snacks with clean labels, which have been trending for a few years. “That trend has carried over to salty snacks as well,” Ilic added.
Clean-label products include those that contain better-for-you ingredients and/or are organic, offer lower calorie intake per serving, are low in carbs and keto-friendly; feature reduced sodium and sugar per serving or are higher in protein and fiber per serving.
C-store consumers are also looking for bold and spicy flavor profiles such as chili, jalapeño and Tajín seasoning, all of which have become mainstream.
Chips are the top-performing product category within salty snacks, with significant representation in Exchange stores. Over and above a chips-and-dips planogram, they are featured monthly on endcaps at promotional prices.
Health-conscious customers are also reaching for nuts and nut trail mixes packed with healthy fats, plant-based protein, nutrients and antioxidants. Also popular are plant-based products that replace traditional ingredients such as corn and potatoes with beets, sweet potato, peas, beans and Brussels sprouts. Popular package sizes remain take-home (eight ounces to 16 ounces) and on-the-go resealable bags.