Meat Snacks Go Gourmet

Innovative flavors and new packaging target female and young snackers.

By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor.

Manufacturers are finding other ways to woo women into choosing their products over chips and cookies when mid-day hunger pangs strike. One way is by emphasizing the snacks’ “better-for-you” attributes.

Oh Boy! Oberto retooled its recipes to make them all-natural, a move, said the manufacturer, meant to assuage consumers’ concerns about artificial ingredients and preservatives.

Jack Link’s has dedicated a portion of its mostly Sasquatch-centric Website to its “Lighter Side” 100-calorie packs, and turkey strips, bites and jerky. Other parts of the site compare jerky with chips and pretzels (no surprise, jerky comes out the hero), and explain why beef jerky is a one of the “top college dorm snacks.”

One Denver meat snack company, Performance Enhancing Meat Snacks Inc., has even gone functional with an all-natural product called Perky Jerky, in beef and turkey varieties. The jerky is soaked in a marinade infused with guarana, a caffeine-containing tropical berry that is an ingredient in many energy drinks. Among its target consumers are “moms on-the-go” and desk-bound workers who suffer from mid-afternoon slump.

“Jerky manufacturers have done a good job of communicating that their products are a good source of lean protein by calling that out on their packages and promotional materials,” said Tim Cote, vice president of the Beaverton, Ore.-based Plaid Pantry chain. “That’s a big selling point for women.”

Chris Switzer, category manager for 543 Stripes convenience stores in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, noted that increased flavor options and line extensions, such as moister, more tender nuggets and bites, strips and dippers with side sauces, are attracting a wider range of consumers, including women and younger consumers, to the meat snack category.

Female consumers find products with a more tender bite to be more approachable. “They don’t have to rip and tear these moister snacks, so they’re easier to eat,” said Cote.

Bold Flavors
For younger consumers, hot is the new cool. Once targeted to ethnic palates, super-spicy flavors are now available in mainstream brands. As an example, Peter Leavitt, president of Leavitt & Associates management consulting group in Austin, Texas, mentioned the provocatively named “Dare” line of Con Agra Slim Jim jerky and sticks, with three in-your-face heat levels, “Kinda Hot” (chili pepper), “Freakin’ Hot” (jalapeño) and “Really Freakin’ Hot” (habanero).

But flavors do not have to be tongue-searingly hot to deliver the bold bite that many consumers, including many women, want from their snacks. Cote mentioned the popular sweeter barbeque and tangy black peppered varieties of meat snacks as examples.
A recent article in the New York Times referenced a report by global research company Innova Market Insights that tracked 140 “meat snack” introductions in 2011. Innova compared that with 75 such introductions two years earlier.
According to SymphonyIRI Group, beef jerky sales reached close to $1.2 billion, increasing more than 9% for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 2. Jerky alone accounted for more than $524 million.

At Rutter’s Farm Stores, sales reflect this forward movement throughout the meat snack category. “The category continues to grow and realize very good margins,” said Robert Perkins, the York, Pa.-based chain’s director of marketing.

Chicago-based Mintel Group research projected that sales of meat snacks will continue to increase over at least the next few years.
At Corpus Christi, Texas-based c-store chain Stripes, meat snack sales have grown 15% over the past year, said category manager Chris Switzer. Much of this growth, he explained, has been driven by the company’s private label Smokin’ Barrel Snack Co. “A significant portion of the growth of our Smokin’ Barrel brand has been influenced by price inflation due to cost increases taken by all major suppliers,” he said.

In each of its stores, Stripes allocates four linear feet of space to meat products in the stores’ snack sections along with the nuts and seeds, cookies and other between-meal hunger pang tamers. He noted that the chain also cross-merchandises with soft drinks and beer to drive impulse purchases.

Easy Access
Plaid Pantries also makes meat snacks easily accessible to shoppers at its more than 100 stores. The products occupy their own end cap, plus they are on display in the snack aisle and at the cash register.

Depending on the size of the individual store, Rutter’s dedicates between four and eight feet of aisle space to meat snacks plus an end cap for sticks and jerky in each of its 57 stores. Rutter’s carries five brands and nearly 65 varieties of meat snacks.
Leavitt noted that manufacturers are doing a good job of designing packaging that is “hip, cool and fun” to capture younger consumers. He added that the manufacturers are also stepping up their game when it comes to creating eye-catching shipper displays and other merchandising materials.

As an example, he pointed to the new four-foot, two-tier rack from Jack Link’s, which he described as “the end cap of the future.” “It is easier for customers to use than the traditional three-tier rack because it allows them to read tags and reach items on the higher shelves,” Leavitt said.

Over the past couple of years, Plaid Pantry has seen a sales growth of 15-20% in the meat snack category, Cote said. While sales of all flavors have been continually increasing, Cote saw particularly good growth in the sales of both wrapped and unwrapped beef jerky sticks over last 3-6 months of 2012.

In addition to the major national players, Cote said many of his customers prefer to stick with their favorite regional brands. For bagged meat snacks, he suggested that retailers check out the research reports by SymphonyIRI and Nielsen to identify best-selling brands.

“If using syndicated data, it is best to use a combination of actual sales and sales per point of distribution,” he said. “Really, you are likely safe in the segment picking the top two or three brands in your market, and then just working with each to see which can give you the best deal for your stores’ go-to-market needs.”

Cote also noted that larger bag sizes, 10-12-ouncers, are selling extremely well. “For many meat snack eaters, three ounces is not a normal serving size; they’re looking at the larger bags as a one-day supply, maybe two at most. It’s like the way people eat candy.” Rutter’s Perkins agreed that customers really seem to like the convenience of the resealable packages.

At Rutter’s jerky chew is still very popular, said Perkins. The stores carry four flavors through three brands. Although the company introduced turkey to its meat snack mix, sales have been slower to increase than for any other new item.

Then there is the meat snack sensation of 2012 (and, predict retailers, 2013, too)—bacon jerky. “Anything bacon flavored is good and is going to sell well,” said Cote. “Our customers love it.”

Perkins called bacon “the hottest flavor of the year.” Both Plaid Pantries and Stripes feature Trails Best brand bacon jerky distributed by Monogram Foods. Rutter’s features Wild Bill’s from Monogram. Perkins said both Oberto and Jack Link’s are set to introduce their own branded bacon jerky in 2013.

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