I attended the Sweets & Snacks Expo (aka, The Candy Show) which was held May 23-25 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association hosted over 800 exhibitors representing candy, chocolate, and snacks companies. In this article, I will talk about how meat snacks have expanded beyond beef jerky to premium breakfast, gourmet, and kosher options. In other articles, I discuss other trends seen at the show: coffee meets chocolate, chickpeas and lentils in the snack aisle; spicy flavors; and popcorn appeals to both health and indulgence seekers.
The number of meat snacks continues to grow as companies introduce new products to appeal to consumers beyond the traditional audience of hunters and fishermen buying beef jerky at convenience stores. Premium meat jerky, meat bars, and meat sticks have become more visible as a high-protein, minimally processed snack, boosted by the popularity of the Paleo diet and a desire for fewer, simpler ingredients in foods. To appeal to a broader audience and continue growing sales, meat snacks companies are using a wide variety of meats beyond beef, incorporating premium ingredients, and turning to chefs and celebrities. The $2.8 billion meat snack category has been a positive performer in the total snack category, with compound annual sales growth of over 7% over the past four years and 3.5% growth for the year ended February 25, 2017 according to Nielsen.
Using premium ingredients and meats beyond beef is a way for meat snacks companies to appeal to a wider group of consumers looking for a healthy snack. Genius Jerky calls itself an “ultra-premium artisan jerky company” through the use of ingredients such as grass-fed and grass-finished beef, premium spices, honey, and roasted garlic. Field Trip Jerky seeks to appeal to active foodies by using grass fed beef, vegetarian fed pork, free range turkey, and ingredients such as apple juice, pineapple juice, and rice wine. Duke’s Meats emphasizes the use of real, whole ingredients such as hickory smoked peaches, freshly chopped cilantro, and real lime juice in its slogan: “Smoked Meats Crafted with real, whole ingredients, not a lot of sugar”. The brand also emphasizes that its products are “Small Batch Crafted” with the batch case qty number stamped on the back of each Duke’s Meats package. Conagra Brands, Inc, owner of the Slim Jim meat snack brand, acquired Thanasi Foods, maker of Duke's Meats in April 2017.
In the case of Oberto Brands, they have identified four consumer segments in meat snacks – Gourmet, Better For You, Traditional, and With Jerky – so that they have products designed to appeal to each segment. In the Gourmet segment, Oberto offers its Oberto’s Pacific Gold brand that is sold in club channels and positioned as a “Delicious snack to reward myself and family”.
To reach the Gourmet segment, some players are using a chef-created message to target foodies and women. Think Jerky was created by Ricky Hirsch who partnered with famous chefs such as Michelin star chefs Gale Gand (a Food Network star) and Laurent Gras to develop the recipes. Hirsch calls his products “Healthy Chef-Created Jerky” through the use of 100-calorie packs, minimal use of sugar and salt, and use of grass-fed beef or free-range turkey. Chef's Cut Real Jerky, created by Chef Blair Swiler and Dennis Riedel, touts features such as "Chef-Created Marinade", "Real Ingredients", and "Cut By Hand" in addition to being certified gluten free. At the Sweets & Snacks Expo, Chef's Cut Real Jerky introduced shelf-stable Protein Packs that combine its meat jerky with dehydrated cheese (using a patented process) in Real Steak Jerky - Original Recipe & Cheddar Cheese and Real Turkey Jerky - Teriyaki & Pepper Jack Cheese varieties. Following the show, actress Olivia Munn announced on June 12, National Jerky Day, that she is the newest investor in Chef's Cut Real Jerky. This development is likely to bring more female attention to the brand and to meat snacks overall.
Sugar content in meat snacks has historically not been a big factor in consumer purchasing decisions. However, it looks like that could change in the premium segment of meat snacks as health conscious consumers increasingly seek to reduce sugar consumption not just in beverages but in snacks. Think Jerky’s website talks about its founder’s focus on minimizing the use of sugar and salt but does not call its sugar content on the front of the packaging. In contrast, Duke’s Meats features a low-sugar message in its slogan: “Smoked Meats Crafted with real, whole ingredients, not a lot of sugar” and calls out the sugar content on the front of the pack. Without naming names, Duke’s Meats calls out a leading “gourmet” jerky for containing 11g of sugar and a leading meat bar for containing 9g of sugar. In contrast, Duke’s Meats products contain only 0-5g of sugar per serving.
Women have not been a traditional consumer of meat snacks. But Link Snacks, Inc, the number one player in meat snacks with its Jack Link’s brand, created the Lorissa’s Kitchen brand in 2016 to appeal to active, upscale women looking for a healthy snack with varieties such as Ginger Teriyaki and Korean Barbecue Beef. Lorissa’s Kitchen is differentiated from other meat snacks brands through the use of attractive packaging that features photos of ingredients such as ginger, sesame seeds, and soy sauce. The packaging also touts that Lorissa’s Kitchen is “100% Grass-Fed Beef”, “Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics”, No Added MSG, and No Preservatives to reassure women that the meat snacks are premium.
Even consumers eating kosher are now being targeted. Tomer Kosher offered Kosher Beef Sticks that are kosher certified, made with 100% angus chuck, and free of dairy, gluten, and soy.
Among new initiatives, the traditional outdoorsy male audience for meat snacks is not being ignored. Three Star Brands licensed the Coleman outdoor brand to create Coleman Premium Steak Snacks for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Oberto Brands uses its Cattlemen’s Cut brand to target the Traditional consumer segment and its Oberto brand to reach the Better For You segment. The company hired sports personalities including Rob Gronkowski (NFL All-Pro), Richard Sherman (NFL All-Pro), and Travis Pastrana (action sports) to spread the message that “Oberto is the jerky brand for those who lead an active lifestyle”.
Among other consumer segments, breakfast lovers and campers are being targeted. Link Snacks Inc extended its Jack Link’s brand to Jack Link’s A.M. to create Breakfast Bacon in Applewood Smoked and Brown Sugar & Maple and Breakfast Sausage in Original and Hot & Spicy varieties as a hearty morning offering. The introduction of a morning-positioned meat snack provides another snacking occasion beyond afternoon snacking and ties in well with the concept of more Americans having a second breakfast as reported by The Wall Street Journal in April 2017.