Here’s the beef!

Jerky and meat snacks are on a growth tear with new products and line extensions making them more popular than ever.

Here is something to chew on. The meat snacks/jerky category is one of the fastest growing in the center store channel, with no let up in sight.

Big-Dippers-LineAccording to industry observers, meat snacks have grown to become the third largest segment in the overall salty snack universe from a dollar sales perspective.

“Snacking has been the fastest growing segment of the entire food industry and meat snacks had a 12% growth rate last year,” says Mike Kan, director of marketing for Golden Island Jerky, a family-owned meat snack operator based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “It is the fastest growing segment of the snacking category, which makes it the fastest growing segment in the food industry,” Kan says adding that Golden Island’s jerky business has grown 500% since 2008.

According to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, the dried meat snacks category had sales of $271.1 million for the 52 weeks ended June 16, an increase of 6.0%, while the jerky subcategory had sales of $167.7 million, an increase of 9.4%.

A mainstay of the convenience store channel, meat snacks are gaining in popularity with supermarket shoppers and offer supermarket operators a chance to garner increased impulse sales and high margins, say observers.

“The jerky industry has really changed over the last decade,” Kan says. “It used to be very much the convenience-store trucker food. But since the Atkins Diet people have been looking at it differently, and jerky has become a high-protein, low-fat, low-carb snack. That has brought a lot of growth and attention.”

Carl Buddig & Co. has been doing its part to grow the supermarket meat snack business with its Old Wisconsin brand Beef Bites, Turkey Bites and Pepp Bites bite-size pieces of sausage, merchandised in 8-ounce bags. “The footprint is the same as a 3.5- or 4-ounce bag of jerky, but it is literally half the cost,” says Jeff Weber, brand manager, Old Wisconsin, at Homewood, Ill.-based Carl Buddig & Co. He adds that the bite-size pieces are also more conducive to the supermarket shopper.

“Like anything else, the meat snack category has evolved and many consumers prefer 1-inch pieces versus tearing it with their teeth. The bites are more friendly for female consumers and for kids too,” he says. “Another advantage is that it takes a meat snack item and makes it something that can morph into an entertaining item that can be cross-merchandised with olives and cheese cubes. That is a key difference in C-stores versus the supermarket business.”

Slim Jim also has a bite-size product—Slim Jim Sausage Bites, available in Original and Pepperoni flavors. “It is another kind of snacking format,” says Dan Skinner, public relations manager, at ConAgra Foods, based in Naperville, Ill. “They are available in 4-ounce resealable bags that offer portion control and are easy to take on the go.”

Bridgford Foods Corp. has an in-depth understanding of merchandising meat snacks in the supermarket channel. The Chicago-based company’s pepperoni pillow packs and 16-ounce pepperoni sticks are a mainstay of supermarket delis and end cap grocery aisle displays.

“We grew up in the grocery stores,” says Baron Bridgford II, vice president. “Most meat snacks are sold in convenience stores, but we are different. You are not going to sell a 16-ounce pepperoni stick in a gas station.”

In addition, Bridgford prides itself that its products are 100% made in the U.S. and largely direct store delivered with its own fleet of trucks.

One of Bridgford’s hottest items is the relatively new Sweet Baby Ray’s line of jerky, manufactured under license from Ken’s Foods. “We have Original, Honey Chipotle and Sweet ’n Spicy. That is mirrored off their line of sauces,” Bridgford says.

Gobbling up turkey  
Another hot spot for Bridgford has been meat snacks made from turkey. “Three or four years ago turkey just took off,” Bridgford says. “We introduced turkey pepperoni and in less than a year it became one of our top 10 items. We find consumers not only find it a healthier product, but Muslims like it because they can’t eat regular pepperoni since it contains pork.”

Jack Link’s also has a growing line of turkey-based meat snacks. It uses green and white packaging to set them off from its other proteins sporting a red and black design. “The whole line and packaging draws attention to turkey’s benefits—it is low in fat, calories and carbs but high in protein,” says Kevin Papacek, director of marketing, at Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, based in Minong, Wis.

The line includes Original Turkey Jerky and Oven Roasted Tender Turkey Bites. “Both are made out of all-white meat turkey breast,” Papacek says. “In January we launched a Turkey Snack Stick and we have a Turkey Steak, which is similar to our beef steak products, but made out of turkey.”

Other new products in Jack Link’s portfolio include Jack Link’s Big Dippers, a meat and sauce combination in Barbecue (beef steak strips with barbecue sauce), Buffalo Chicken (Buffalo-seasoned chicken strips with Buffalo and Ranch sauces), All American (beef sticks with cheese sauce) and Barbecue Pork Jerky that replicates the taste of a barbecued rib.

In August, Marfood USA is expanding its Pemmican brand to include a Tex-Mex offering. “We’re really excited about it,” says Nakia Miller, marketing manager at Taylor, Mich.-based Marfood USA. “It contains all the popular Mexican flavors, including Taco, Chipotle, Mango Chili and Beef & Cheese Enchilada, and is packaged in fun vibrant colors that really stand out on the shelf.”

This spring Marfood introduced Pemmican Organic Beef Jerky, made at its plant in Uruguay, available in Original Beef, Teriyaki and Pepper varieties. “Organic is a real point of difference because it has much stricter guidelines than a ‘natural’ product,” says Keith Megginson, director of sales at Marfood USA.

ConAgra is looking to attract a broader audience with its Slim Jim Steakhouse line. Based on its success, Twisted Teriyaki and Crackin’ Pepper were recently added to the initial Smokin’ Mesquite and Kickin’ Carne Asada flavors. “Slim Jim Steakhouse is more moist and tender than traditional jerkies,” says Skinner. “From sell-through and consumer feedback we’ve learned consumers like the taste of this product and because it is easy to tear into.”

This fall, Slim Jim will once again be teaming with video game manufacturer Electronic  Arts for an on-pack promotion. “Because meat snacks and snacking go hand-in-hand with the gaming experience, this helps Slim Jim stand out in the meat snacks category,” says Martin Wodarz, group vice president, group creative director, at TRIS3CT, the Chicago-based agency that developed the promotion.

“Grocery is a priority channel in terms of growth and display,” says Jeff Thomas, account executive, Slim Jim/ConAgra, at TRIS3CT. “We’ll have more floor standing displays and power wings that can generate incremental impulse sales as a key focus of the program.”

Some might think peddling jerky made from salmon might be an upstream battle, but Ocean Beauty Seafoods has high hopes for its Salmon Jerky. Introduced at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York in June, it is available in 3-ounce bags in Original Flavor, Teriyaki Flavor and Black Pepper. “It is made with lean wild salmon at our Seattle plant and has all the nutritional benefits of salmon but without a heavy fishy taste,” says Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing and communications at Seattle-based Ocean Beauty Seafoods.

“Our product is OU kosher, which is really unusual for jerky and contains no artificial ingredients. We dry the fish in a dehydrator that heats, dries and pulls the moisture out of the fish, and it is shelf-stable for a year,” Sunderland says.

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