Flavored products from hot and spicy to teriyaki and smoked are driving the meat snacks category as customers look for new varieties of their favorite snacks.
Stick sales are reportedly up, and as manufacturers work to reclaim the teen demographic, new products, packaging and advertisements abound.
Consumer demand for sticks seems to be price driven. In an uncertain economy, shoppers are opting to pay $1.29 or $1.39 for a regular meat stick or $2.49 for a larger stick rather than $5.99 or $6.99 for a bag of jerky, noted Tim Grossi, category manager for Dash In Food Stores in La Plata, Md., which operates 35 stores in eastern Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
The economy isn’t the only thing affecting the category. After the June explosion at a ConAgra plant near Raleigh, N.C., that affected Slim Jim production, other players have been stepping up to carry the category.
“It was a strange summer with Slim Jim down,” Grossi said. “Con Agra still has a lion’s share of the market in our region, but Jack Link’s had a good summer with innovations and advertising and has really kept the category going. Frank’s RedHot has also been doing well for us.”
Among the innovations retailers have noticed is a concentrated effort by suppliers to target the teenage demographic, which has long been an important demographic for the category. Another growing trend is the expansion beyond beef. Meat snacks now include spicy and peppered chicken and turkey varieties in traditional store sets.
The category is also gaining the attention of larger chains like 7-Eleven, which rolled out a private label jerky line in 2009 that is priced to compete with national brands. Its top mover in the category is the 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.”
Overall, sales remain strong and the category appears poised for a strong 2010. According to Nielsen data for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 30, 2009, meat snacks sales at c-stores totaled $827 million, up 3.9% from the previous year.
CSD’s 2010 Brand Preference Study polled 68 key decision makers from 66 chains about the meat snacks category. The respondents named Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Slim Jim (ConAgra) and Old Wisconsin Sausage as the top performers in the category. Honorable mentions went to Old Trapper Smoked Products, World Kitchens and Oberto Sausage.
In the last 60 days most respondents reported that they saw presentations by one or two companies (53%). Meanwhile, 26% said they were visited by three or four companies, and 9% met with five or more companies. Of the 68 buyers of meat snacks, 12% or eight key people reported no sales presentations from meat snack suppliers in the last two months. In fact, 91% of buyers reported less than five presentations from the 11 companies in the market.
In the last two months, buyers remember seeing sales presentations from Jack Link’s Beef Jerky (82%), Slim Jim (ConAgra) (51%), Oberto Sausage (28%), Old Wisconsin Sausage (16%) and Frank’s RedHot (Thanasi) (13%).