Meat snacks sales are skyrocketing at convenience stores despite ongoing supply disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. C-store retailers are driving category sales with big bags of jerky, new meat snack styles, tried-and-true flavors and local products.
Meat snack dollar sales at c-stores totaled $1.83 billion for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 28, 2021, up 17.6% over the previous year, according to NielsenIQ Total U.S. Convenience data. Jerky sales specifically increased 24% for the same period, totaling $694 million in dollar sales. Meat-and-cheese combo snacks saw the biggest uptick for the period, up 27.1% with $104 million in dollar sales.
Meat snack sales overall saw an uptick of 38.7%, led by meat sticks (up 43.6%), between July 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2021, compared to the same period in 2020, per National Retail Solutions (NRS) data.
C-store retailers agreed that meat snack sales are trending upward in 2021, even as supply challenges linger.
“Unfortunately, supply continues to be an issue,” said Mike Nelson, senior category manager at Beaverton, Ore.-based Plaid Pantry, which operates more than 108 c-stores in the Pacific Northwest. Yet another challenge has been the lack of promotional funding due to inventory constraints. Nonetheless, sales are looking up.
“Our (meat snacks) category is still very healthy, but we’ve just had to work harder for it,” Nelson said. “We are still lucky enough to see growth in the category.”
Looking toward the future, Nelson believes there is still plenty of room for the meat snack category to expand. “Once the brands are able to get back to comfortable in-stock levels, I expect the category will continue to grow,” he said.
Both traditional and spicy flavor profiles are in high demand among the meat snacks customers. Plaid Pantry is also seeing customer demand for different styles of meat snacks, including Biltong and Landjäger.
Holiday Oil Co, which operates more than 60 Holiday convenience stores in Utah, is also seeing steady growth in the meat snacks category. “Overall, from a numbers perspective, it’s actually really good,” said Devon Nitta, category manager at Holiday Oil Co. “In dollar sales, we’re up a couple digits, and units are up as well. That’s really promising.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, c-store retailers saw big demand for large bags of jerky, as customers began bulk-buying snacks. Both Nelson and Nitta have seen that trend toward large bags of meat snacks continue through 2021.
“Every single manufacturer has gone up in price over the last year, so people are really seeking that value package,” said Nitta. “Anything 10 ounces and above, that’s really where a lot of the growth is — trying to get that value per ounce. That’s what we’re seeing, at least.”
Nelson agreed. “We have offered large bags for several years now, and the demand continues to increase,” he said. “However, as (prices) rise, we have seen small-bag sales begin to pick up, as well.”
Supply issues have been one of the catalysts behind changing inventory and sales trends.
“Product supply is continually, amongst other things, a big pain point,” Nitta said. “At this point, I’m having to evaluate week to week what manufacturers are struggling to sell to keep our sale dates up and trying to find some other options.”
To offset issues with out-of-stocks, Holiday Oil has reached out to local vendors to fill in gaps in its meat snack sets.
“We’ve actually leveraged a lot of local suppliers in our community — local to our market,” Nitta said. “Just so we can have a good product, a good offering to provide for our shoppers.”
Given the positive response from customers, Nitta expects that Holiday Oil will continue to source local meat snack items even after supply issues subside. “Particularly in Utah, I feel that people love to support local, and we call that out; so that really garners a lot of support from our consumer base.”
“These small guys are poised to have really long-term growth, especially the longer these bigger manufacturers continue to have shortages” Nitta added.
Luckily, for Holiday Oil and Plaid Pantry alike, consumer loyalty has remained steadfast during the pandemic, as customers increasingly turn to c-stores for their one-stop shop.
“We have built a loyal customer base,” said Nelson. “And thankfully, they continue to buy.”