Creating Snack Opportunities

C-store operators need to transcend mere impulse merchandising and gain a real understanding of shifting consumer demographics in order to make the most of the meat snack category.

Long considered a convenience store staple, meat snacks—primarily dried snacks and pork rinds—are enjoying a renaissance with the addition of many new flavors, new packaging and better marketing. According to Information Resources Inc. (IRI), the Chicago-based market research firm, scan data for the 52-week period ending Oct. 7, 2008, shows that sales of dried meat snacks in the convenience store channel were more than $836 million. Of that, jerky snacks accounted for nearly $421 million. Frito Lay, ConAgra, Link Industries and Bridgford Foods remain top manufacturers, followed by companies like Oberto’s, Old Wisconsin, Penrose and Trails Best.

Obviously, the basic rules of retail still apply. “It’s all about impulse sales in that category,” said Ken Gomez, vice president of business development for Crossmark, a retail services company based in Plano, Texas. “From what I see in the meat snack category it’s all about catching the consumer as he walks into the store. People don’t go into c-stores specifically looking for meat snacks. Your No. 1 selling item in the c-store is cigarettes. Your No. 2 selling item would be beer. What a great time it is, depending on the demographics of that geography, to make sure you have the meat snacks in an area of the store where you can get that impulse sale.”

While in-store merchandising touches like counter displays and clip strips can help, “what operators need to do is get customers from that gas pump into the store so they can buy,” Gomez added.

Yet society never stands still, trends arise and evolve, and the consumer of yesterday often looks a bit different than the consumer of today, as do their snack needs. For example, according to IRI, 78% of American consumers are trying to eat healthier, with 63% replacing high-calorie snacks with better-for-you options.

Growing Category
The meat snacks category is “in a strong position for continued growth, given that it meets three key consumer trends in snacking—convenience, healthy choice, and satiety,” said Bret Ocholik, vice president of marketing and innovation for Jack Link’s Beef Jerky in Minong, Wis. “Convenience is met by widespread distribution, product portability, product packaging and no mess eating—ideal for people and families on the go. Adults and moms recognize the strong healthful attributes of meat snacks as compared with other popular snacks.”

Meat snacks continue to be one of the best options for protein snacking, Ocholik said. The added benefit is that “most are low in fat and calories per serving.” Satiety, which he defines as “the satisfying ‘fills me up’ feeling you get from particular foods, is another important solution consumers seek when choosing meal-bridging snacks.”

Men, women and busy families are discovering meat snacks as a great option for meal replacement or meal bridging snacking—keys for c-stores. “We still have a big opportunity to communicate all of these benefits to a larger, mainstream audience and continue to grow the penetration and frequency of use in the category,” Ocholik said.

Demographics Decide
Chicago-based market research firm Mintel reported Americans have a “preference for spicy, barbecue, teriyaki and smoke flavor profiles.” Health claims are playing an increasingly important vehicle for marketing products.

Mintel’s long-range (through 2011) projection for the meat snacks category sees it as “slightly more favorable as the changing U.S. demographic reveals younger generations to account for a larger share of the population. Since they are core meat snacks users, this will fuel growth.”

The female population is also set to grow and become dominant over the male population, Mintel reported. It advised manufacturers to “broaden their advertising initiatives to be more appealing to women.” Sampling could be an effective tool as a point of entry to attract new users, they added, but innovation in meat snacks must cater to the increased consumer demand for natural, organic and premium products.

This is a category in which innovations are largely triggered by flavor, texture and packaging trends. As the consumer base of meat snacks continues to expand beyond young males, tailoring products that suit these new consumers is ever-important.

While one of the most prevalent flavor profiles for meat snacks is spicy and hot, consumers are not satisfied with simple versions. Rather, there is a growing demand for meat snacks offering premium flavors, Mintel found. Other taste inspirations are based on popular restaurant trends or brand names.

Meat snacks have long been associated with a tough chew and texture, but new softer meat snacks appeal to many new users in the category, especially women and children, Mintel suggested. To yield a softer product, suppliers are increasingly utilizing other sources of meat such as chicken, turkey and ham. Size is also changing with piece-like sizes becoming more widely used.

What’s Selling
Trends in packaging of meat snacks include innovations catering to the demand for convenience and portability as well as updating packages to give meat snacks a more modern image, Mintel found. Particularly, multiple-serving resealable bags and single-serve packages are important to market sales.

Manufacturers in the meat snack market have not traditionally offered much advertising or promotional support for its products, according to Mintel. In fact, the firm noted, manufacturers “have not needed to invest in large national campaigns to fuel growth, as expanded distribution resulting from positive attention as a low-carb snack provided incredible sales increases. But now, with the retail distribution of meat snacks nearing a point of saturation, manufacturers are beginning to utilize promotion to propel market growth.”

Yet as the meat snack consumer has broadened to include more females, Baby Boomers and even children, the industry “has failed to adequately respond with marketing that appeals to these users as well.” Mintel suggested that an industry focus primarily—and in some brand instances—on men “might at this stage be a misstep, most especially at a time when women are expressing interest in the market.”

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