Meat snack manufacturers are going after the teen demographic, solidifying them as the product’s target audience, and introducing new flavors and varieties to meet the changing needs of consumers.
Many retailers agree flavored meat sticks are driving the category.
“Flavors products are strong right now whether it’s the hot, teriyaki or the smoked,” said Bill Tencza, senior category manager of Quick Chek Corp., which operates 120 food stores in New York and New Jersey.
The company overhauled its meat snack planograms two months ago and added new flavored sticks from Jack Link’s and Slim Jim. “Sales are pretty good,” Tencza said. “We think there’s an opportunity to get into more sticks because sales are increasing.”
7-Eleven also has noted more demand for flavorful products, such as spicy meat snacks as well as a significant increase in its private-label product sales. Its top mover in the category is its proprietary 7-Select Snack Stick, which retails for just 25 cents.
“Customers try our private label for the price, but continue to purchase 7-Select because of the quality,” said Sandra Colvin, 7-Eleven’s national category manager for snacks. “We also are seeing a decline in sales of five-ounce bags and larger. It appears that customers are trading down to kippered sticks and meat sticks.”
Meat snack companies also are stepping up advertising efforts and introducing new items to appeal to the teen demographic.
Increased advertising is driving volume into convenience stores. “Con Agra Foods and Jack Link’s have reinvented the category and come out with new products, flavors, new packaging and TV commercials, which are getting excitement back into the category,” Tencza said.
Quick Chek just added Jack Link’s new Sasquatch Big Stick, which Tencza expects will increase sales, especially among the teen demographic. In addition, Jack Link’s new Matador brand offers new packaging and has teamed with Frito-Lay for product distribution.
“They nailed it (with the Matador brand) because they’re trying to bring that teen customer back in with the product,” Tencza said. “Meat snacks used to be targeted toward kids, and I guess they saw a decline in that demographic, so they actually came out with this whole product line geared toward the kids.”
With health consciousness on the minds of consumers everywhere, the question remains, “Are more healthful meat snacks finding their way into the category?”
Dr. Richard (Rody) Hawkins, a food scientist and founder of RDI Foods LLC, a consulting company that specializes in all aspects of food product research and development, noted that when the Atkins diet hit about eight years ago, customers were interested in how many carbs meat snacks had.
“Suddenly Slim Jim became a healthy food because it was protein and fat,” Hawkins said. “But that was more of a fad than a trend. Beef Jerky has always been low in fat. It has some carbs in it for flavor, but it is also a high protein snack, so that has always been considered more of a healthy snack. What we’re seeing now though is (companies) finding ways to target meat snacks to meet particular needs and lifestyles or activities.”
Hawkins said variety plays a key role in a product’s popularity. “In a stick product you are able to blend it to produce a lot more variety in what you’re trying to deliver whether you’re doing it for an energy boost or higher protein or different flavor profiles,” he said. “You can find a variety to achieve whatever effect you’re looking for.”