At one point, the entire meat snack section of a convenience store might have consisted of a brand or two of jerky or meat sticks. Thanks to innovations in product flavor and quality, the meat snack is one of the hottest categories in the meat world, with whole aisles devotes to jerky, snack sticks, meat bars and more. The need for on-the-go protein has given rise to a multitude of opportunities for meat processors and companies.

KRAVE was one of the early brands that took the meat snack category in a premium direction. Founded by Jon Sebastiani, KRAVE gained enough recognition in the sector that it was acquired by Hershey in 2015. Sebastiani and his new business, Sonoma Brands, re-acquired KRAVE in April 2020. He also acquired the Chef’s Cut brand of meat products later in the year. Sonoma Brands is actively looking for disruptive brands in the CPG sector, and the acquisition of a second meat snacks brand creates several advantages.

“With the two brands, we now have a broader platform to approach different consumer segments, and we can be much more efficient with a collaborative promotional strategy,” says Sebastiani.

KRAVE was one of the brands that helped change the consumer perception of jerky. It didn’t have to be a tough and flavorless strip of meat. It could be tender or chewy. It could have interesting flavors that were in touch with culinary and consumer trends. Meat snacks, in short, could be trendy.

“Our original focus in revolutionizing the jerky category was on bringing non-traditional high-quality ingredients and a culinary flavor profile to the space, which has since caught on with a wide swath of jerky brands,” he says. “When you look at jerky and meat snack products today, you see that premium brands with out-of-the-box flavor profiles, cleaner ingredient panels and improved textures are everywhere you turn — the premium jerky category is growing three times faster in the marketplace than regular jerky.”Chef's Cut jerky

Sebastiani and Sonoma Brands are competing in a market that is much more crowded than it was when he started KRAVE. Not only is the category filled with new and emerging brands, but he notes that veggie products are also making inroads into the category as well.

“That said, there is still room for growth in the meat snacking space that we are excited to explore, innovate and launch more new meat snacks under the KRAVE and Chef’s Cut brands in the months and years to come,” he says.

The Coronavirus has presented some unique challenges to the meat snack market. The pandemic has limited the amount of traveling that people do, and one of the sector’s key customers was the out-and-about person looking for a quick protein fix.

“However, there have been big shifts in consumer buying habits - using online DTC channels more, buying large quantities of shelf-stable products during less frequent trips to the grocery store - that are forcing brands to pivot, ramp up production and find ways to keep stores stocked,” Sebastiani notes.

Sonoma Brands is looking to capitalize on expanded distribution opportunities for its meat snack brands.

“Now is an opportune time to get KRAVE and Chef’s Cut Jerky into more retail doors, especially as we enhance the quality and marketing of the products. Each brand still has its own story to tell, and we’re primed to promote those unique stories,” he says.

KRAVE has been owned by a small company, and it has also been a part of a larger, multi-national company like Hershey. Sebastiani says that a smaller company can be more agile and aggressive than a large corporation when it comes to earning a spot in the marketplace.

“KRAVE and Chef’s Cut products speak for themselves – premium brands provide a better eating experience — and our ability to be nimble with these brands allows us to put them in front of the right markets and retailers at the right time,” he says.