By Howard Riell, Associate Editor
From a wide variety of flavor offerings, including specialty meats, to various textures and forms, the meat snacks category succeeds in meeting consumers’ desires.
The category is well positioned at what some refer to as the intersection of snacking trends and consumer demand for protein. New brands, flavors and formats have the potential to bring new consumers to the category, which will drive growth through 2017 and beyond.
Marketers continue to develop creative ways to get consumers to test the jerky segment, including reframing jerky to fit into other categories such as energy bars and trail mixes. Millennials are continuously on the prowl for new flavor experiences, which has led to experimenting with jerky in new shapes, sizes and flavor profiles.
Meat snacks have grown in popularity, as consumers view these as a convenient, tasty and high-protein snack, market research company Mintel Group Ltd. recently reported. “These nutrient-dense snacks also fit into several niche diets including gluten-free. The segment also benefits from simple ingredients and strong flavor and ingredient innovation from large and niche brands alike,” Mintel stated.
More gourmet and premium meat snack options are entering the marketplace in response to consumers looking for authenticity and higher quality. Indeed, offering such upscale protein items—in concert with unconventional forms and exciting packaging—has been one way for companies to break into the already crowded field. Jack Link’s three-year-old premium brand Small Batch Jerky saw sales grow 75% in the past year, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.
An increasingly popular buzzword is “exotic proteins,” which—while still a minute share of the market—include venison, bison, buffalo, lamb, elk, boar, duck, pheasant and ostrich. Another emerging trend is so-called meat bars, led by such brands as Epic, Krave and Tanka. Beef remains the dominant flavor, outselling turkey, pork and chicken.
The category continues to grow more competitive as well, as evidenced by the number of new brands vying for shelf space. For instance, Slim Jim, a category leader, continues to expand its flavor profile. In addition to its Original, Barbecue and Habanero, the company has recently added Turkey Sticks as well as Barbecue and Habanero offerings—a response to consumers looking for new, bolder, more “extreme” flavors.
Such spicier flavor innovations are also capturing business from Millennial-age consumers.
So pronounced has been the proliferation of meat snacks, in fact, that Euromonitor International said it fears the category is becoming saturated. According to spokesperson Marissa Bossler, there are dozens of artisanal meat snack players banking on the natural protein hype, and meat giants such as Tyson have already started to launch snack variants of their existing brands. “In addition, Hershey and General Mills have already made their forays into the category.”
According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, for the 52-week period ending Oct. 30, 2016, the multi-outlet convenience store channel showed dried meat snack sales of just over $1.5 billion, a 0.71% increase over the same period last year. ConAgra Foods’ Slim Jim brand, which holds 19% market share with $243 million in sales, posted 11% growth in dollar sales in the past year, according to Packaged Facts.
Oberto and Bridgford Foods posted dollar sales growth of 18% and 30% in that period, respectively.
COOKING UP INNOVATION
Sales are being driven by more health-conscious shoppers, but also changes in flavors to appeal to a broader crowd.
An emerging trend in the meat snacks category is meat bars, which are pushing the market with brands such as Krave.
“New bars coming out from Krave with non-traditional flavors typify that innovation,” said Heidi Rembecki, director of merchandising for Tonawanda, N.Y.-based NOCO Energy Corp., which operates the NOCO Express convenience chain.
For example, the Hershey Co. launched Krave Bars—the first items to come out of its partnership with Krave Pure Foods, the Sonoma, Calif.-based meat jerky company it acquired last year. The bars are available in four flavors: chipotle cherry beef, cranberry thyme turkey, mango jalapeño pork and wild blueberry barbecue beef. Each selection features dried fruit and quinoa. According to Packaged Facts, Krave Jerky sales rose 71% to $38.3 million, with volume sales growth of 84% in the past year behind increased distribution since being acquired by the Hershey Co. in 2015.
Another is Jack Link’s Lorissa’s Kitchen brand, which markets a jerky with higher moisture for what it called a more tender bite.
“Lorissa’s Kitchen is not your standard looking package or product,” Rembecki said. The line comes in four flavors: Korean Barbeque Beef, Ginger Teriyaki Chicken, Sweet Chili Pork and Szechuan Peppercorn Beef, which touts 100% grass-fed beef, responsibly raised pork and antibiotic-free chicken with no preservatives, added growth hormones, and is gluten free.
As with other categories, newness is an essential ingredient in stirring consumer trial.
Merchandising should also be updated from time to time.
“We’ve started to use the ConAgra rack that allows the sticks to be lying down out of the box,” said Rembecki. “The labeling allows consumers to see what the varieties are much easier than the old stand-up of boxes.”
Indeed, innovative products, flavors and merchandisers may be just what some retailers need. Rembecki suggested that some c-store operators fail to spend time and attention on building the category, relying instead on traditional favorite brands. “However, looking at the newer items will bring new users into the category.”
Critically reviewing the category also helps operators keep from ending up with a small section, with heavy inventory dollars tied up, she added. “They should take a peek more than once a year.”
Sam Odeh, founder and CEO of Power Buying Dealers (PBD) USA Inc., of greater Chicago, includes 25 owned and franchised locations in Illinois, Georgia and Florida. Odeh said he is seeing many new touches in the form of different meats, spices, brands, sizes and line extensions being introduced to PBD’s locations. “What’s important in my opinion is the high-end protein, which is used as a meal during the day instead of a snack.”
Odeh said he has enjoyed success with the category by merchandising it next to his assortment of energy drinks. On the other hand, he keeps meat snacks away from endcap displays. “It tends to signal non-health snacks, like chips.” A wide assortment is likewise needed. “They must carry all sizes of bags.” Price promotions, especially those that bundle with energy drinks, are also helping drive sales.