Snacking on the run

By Sandy Parlin
Hand-held meat snacks are evolving to meet new taste demands — and satisfy an ever-expanding consumer base.
Always anticipating customer needs, the meat and poultry industry continues to introduce an expanding variety of hand-held meat snacks in new sizes, shapes, and flavors — making them more convenient than ever before.
These tasty, smaller meat snacks allow consumers to work or even drive a car while enjoying a nutritious snack. Shelf stable and portable with many featuring a 12-month shelf life, most meat snacks require no refrigeration. The heavy meat-snack consumer has evolved from men aged 15 to 34 years to a broader user base, which includes older males, women, and children from all income levels and occupations.
The meat-snack category is estimated at $2.3 billion and is experiencing double-digit growth each year, says Cathy Sturm, senior marketing manager of Jack Link's Beef Jerky, Minong, WI. For the 52 weeks ending June 26, 2004, the category grew 12 percent in dollar volume. (Source: AC Nielsen).
Two major trends are contributing to this growth, Sturm says:
• Healthy alternatives — The low-carb trend may be leveling off, but there is continued interest in healthy alternative snacks not loaded with fat, sugar, and carbohydrates
• Dashboard dining — Consumers are eating more meals on the go and looking for snacks that satisfy their hunger and flavor cravings.
Meat snacks are the ideal in satisfying both trends because they are naturally low in fat, calories, and carbohydrates — plus they are high in protein, Sturm says. Link's innovative new product offerings include new flavors such as Jack Link’s K.C. Masterpiece Barbecue Beef Jerky and Jack Link’s Kikkoman Beef Steak Nuggets, which address consumer demand for familiar mealtime favorites without compromising quality or flavor. Jack Link’s also offers Turkey Jerky and Buffalo Jerky. Furthermore, the company partnered with Tyson Foods Inc., Springdale, AR, to offer several chicken meat snacks such as Tyson® Buffalo Style Chicken Chunks and Tyson Teriyaki flavor Chicken Chunks.
To target the growing Hispanic population, Jack Link’s introduced the first nationally distributed bi-lingual beef jerky, its Jalapeno Carne Seca/ Beef Jerky.
“This flavor has been extremely successful throughout the country,” Sturm says. Extra Tender Beef Steak Nuggets were designed to appeal to women who prefer a more tender and sweeter meat snack.
Jack Link’s meat snacks are expected to continue to outpace the rest of the snack-food category as consumers embrace the healthy attributes and satisfying appeal of beef jerky more frequently, Sturm says. “Our research shows meat snack per-capita consumption is approximately thirty percent, which means there is still a huge upswing potential for increasing consumption among existing consumers and bringing new consumers into the category,” she adds.
Meat snacks produce the highest growth rates in the salty-snack category, says Ronni Heyman, communications director for ConAgra Foods’ snack-food division in Edina MN. She adds that the high-protein, low-carb nature of these products is a big contributor. New products include multiple flavors, multi-serve containers, steak tips, and nuggets.
ConAgra hand-held meat snacks include Pemmican Steak Tips. Each 1-ounce serving contains only 1.5 grams of fat and 5 grams of carbohydrates— and Pemmican Premium Cut Beef Jerky, with one gram of fat and four grams of carbohydrates per 1-ounce serving. ConAgra offers sticks, jerky, and steak tips. The Slim Jim and Pemmican lines include pizza, chili, teriyaki, Tabasco, hickory, and the new pepperoni flavor. Slim Jim is the No.-1 hand-held meat snack.
Healthier alternatives
Meanwhile, diet-conscious consumers looking for convenient, healthy, low-fat, high-protein snacks are driving the growth in this category, says Roy Barudin, senior vice president marketing and sales, Bill Elliott Championship Products, Atlanta, GA. He notes that private-label brands are growing for most retailers.
“These brands are price driven and allow a retailer to generate higher margins than a branded product,” he says. What makes Bill Elliott's Awesome Products unique is they are the only products in this category positioned to reach the 75 million brand-loyal NASCAR fans.
The company offers beef jerky, a spicy stick, beefsteak, and hot sausage. Products are all naturally low in carbs — zero to 3 percent of the daily value per serving, he says.
“Spicy Stick and Beef Steak are seventy to ninety percent fat-free. Our beef jerky is ninety-seven percent fat-free and high in protein,” he notes.
Barudin says the majority of beef-jerky products come in 2- and 4-ounce bags, with 4-ounce being the No. 1-selling size. The product also is sold in individual bulk portions served with tongs at retail. Sticks, kippered beef, sausage, and combination packs are available in various sizes. The company merchandises a ‘caddie’ with Bill Elliott graphics that can be placed on a countertop or in a shelf rack for high impact at point-of-sale.
Martinsville, VA-based Knauss Snack Food Co. refers to hand-held snacks as ‘single-serve” products, says Brian Fleming, president.
“Meat snacks are viewed as a healthy alternative to candy and other snacks that are high in carbohydrates and fats,” he adds. “The Atkins diet clearly gave the category a boost.
 “Ten years ago, you were hard pressed to find any meat snacks in a supermarket,” he adds. “Now — due to the explosive growth of the category coupled with the fact that meat snacks are a high dollar ring that takes up relatively little display space — they are available in virtually any supermarket in the country.”
Fleming points out that one 4-ounce bag of beef jerky retails from $4.99 to $5.99.
Fleming sees few truly new items but rather larger sizes and flavor extensions, such as sweet barbecue, hickory flavor, Cajun, and “just hotter — it seems impossible to do something that’s too hot.” Private label is becoming a bigger part of the category — enjoying tremendous growth, he adds.
The category will continue to expand, Fleming predicts.
“Hand-held meat snacks are growing at a healthy clip,” he says. The size of packages will go in one of two directions: small, value-related (one-ounce packages of beef jerky for $1 in dollar stores) or added-value larger packages (4 ounces of beef jerky at $4.99 or $5.99). One-pound bags sell at $9.99 to $14.99 on the West Coast, he adds.
“Anywhere there is a cash register there is a potential point of distribution where there could be — and should be — a display of meat snacks,” Fleming says. “We moved into a one-hundred thousand-foot manufacturing facility in December of last year. The commitment that our shareholders made with this new facility is testimony to our confidence in this category.”
Mick Tyler, vice president of marketing for Oberto Sausage Company, Kent, WA, relays that 25 percent of U.S. households purchase meat snacks. Purchases have grown more than 10 percent for the past several years due to expanded distribution, new products, and diet trends, specifically the low-carb and high-protein diets.
“We launched Oberto ‘Edge’ Beef Snacks, which contain one gram of net carbs and ten grams of protein per serving, in two flavors. Homestyle and Cheese were introduced in March of 2004 specifically to target the low-carb dieter and provide high protein,” Tyler reveals. He adds that hand-held meat snacks come in all sizes and shapes; the two most popular are Beef Jerky and Sausage Sticks. The No.-1 flavor is beef and number two is turkey.
In order for a hand-held product to be successful, it must offer other features way beyond being “hand-held,” points out Bill Roenigk, senior vice president and chief economist for Washington, D.C.-based National Chicken Council.  It must also have the attributes of taste, no-mess, value, plus be fun to eat.
Like most popular products when the market becomes large and mature enough, retailers will opt to capture a more direct share of the action. Roenigk predicts the category will continue to grow, but to modest levels.
Latest 52 weeks ending Sept. 5, 2004 Total U.S. (Supermarkets, drugstores, and mass merchandisers excluding Wal-Mart)
Dollar sales Dollar sales % Dollar share Unit Sales Chg Yr Ago
Dried Meat Snacks $305,322,500 17% 100 106,635,900 8.7%
Oh Boy Oberto 70,156,180 22.1 23.0 15,074,860 17.2%
Jack Link`s 49,442,680 16.5 16.2 14,983,650 14%
Slim Jim 49,129,690 13.9 16.1 31,696,240 7.8%
Pemmican 24,976,950 -15.7 8.2 5,444,516 -15.9%
Bridgford 24,166,080 11.6 7.9 5,562,938 8.6%
Something different
Protos Inc., based in Greensburg, PA, offers a different kind of product. President W. Logan Dickerson says Protos’ hand-held meat snack, OSTRIM®, is not in the same market with more than 95 percent of total meat snacks.
“We service the sports nutrition, diet, and health-food markets with our ostrich and beef products, and we have experienced more than twenty percent annual growth during the past several years,” he adds. “We are growing as a result of the increased demand for healthy, real-food, snacks that are tasty and convenient. Healthy-snack consumers are demanding products with high protein, low fat with near zero saturated fat, carbs, cholesterol, and sugar with reasonable limits on sodium.”
The company produces stick-form snacks in four flavors. Ostrim products are made from Premium, 95-percent fat-free beef (the highest grade available) and ostrich meat, one of the world’s most nutritious meats, he says.
CorBranz Marketing Group LLC, Kansas City, MO, is the exclusive marketer of Chubby Checkers Snacks.  Co-President Mark Davis cites portability, the low-carb craze, healthy snacks, and new consumers coming into the category for the enormous growth of the hand-held meat-snacks category.
“It’s not just for hunters anymore,” he adds. “The profile has changed from primarily male-driven to a much broader demographic. Now you see a young lady, kids, and teens eating jerky pieces out of portable bags because it is a healthy, high-quality snack with new, sweeter flavors, and more-tender beef,” Davis says. Chubby Checker’s Beef Jerky is made from solid strips of whole-muscle beef, uniquely moist and tender with great flavor. It has been recognized by the USDA as low in fat (1 gram per serving), carb smart (1 gram per serving), and high in protein (11 grams per serving).
This product is offered in nuggets, strips, and pieces. Chubby Checker’s Beef Jerky comes in 4-ounce resealable bags and is available in four varieties: Sugar Twist Teriyaki, Original Twist Natural Style, Hot Twist Hickory, and Spicy Twist Pepper-Garlic. Wild game and turkey meat snacks are also becoming more popular.
“The category will continue to grow, and we may begin to see some consolidation amongst suppliers,” says Davis. “The private-label side of the business will become more prevalent as the category grows larger.” Suppliers will need to be very savvy in their positioning as the big get bigger, he adds “There will always be room for the smaller niche players that offer a unique selling proposition — whether it’s in variety, quality, packaging, merchandising, or promotion.”  As the price points start to erode, the retailer should always look for a good merchandise mix between big brand and niche suppliers to help protect the high ring and gross margins that this category still has the ability to deliver, Davis concludes.
The Buffalo Guys LLC, based in Elk Mountain, WY, produce buffalo meat snacks.
“Low-carb snacks and meat-based snacks are almost synonymous,” says Ken Klemm, managing partner in Goodland, KS. “We do two types of all-natural buffalo jerky and an all-natural buffalo hot dog. The hot dog has zero carbs, zero saturated fat, only thirty calories per dog, and half the sodium of a regular dog.  But if it doesn’t taste good, you will have a very limited customer base.”
The Buffalo Guys believe that great natural-food products must be strong in taste, health, and convenience.
The jerky is shelf-stable and vacuum-packed in a small package. It’s easier to place by the register (more sales), and the natural-foods customer likes the idea of less packaging/less waste, he advises.
Klemm  points out that the natural-food industry began as an outgrowth of the vegetarian community.
 “That is changing at breakneck pace as retailers realize that carnivores like natural products, too, and we constitute a vastly larger market than the vegetarian segment. This is a solid trend that has a long course to run,” he predicts.
Sandy Parlin is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.