Mystery Solved
by Deborah Cassell,
Managing Editor
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery
What makes meat snacks, such as jerky, tenders and nuggets, succeed at retail? Here are some clues: They’re lean, low-carb snacks. They’re practically fat-free. And they’re just plain tasty.
But is there more to the mystery?
Although the Atkins craze — which led many consumers to eliminate carbs from their diets — is dead, many protein diets are alive and well. As a result, the Atkins craze may be DOA, but meat snacks continue to thrive in its wake. Consumers on protein-rich meal plans such as the South Beach Diet can nibble on dried meats without the fear of being caught in an unpardonable act. Even “soccer moms” can serve their children the healthy treat. Once considered a truck-store snack for the blue-collar and hunting crowd, beef jerky,
in particular, now is showing up at pee-wee football games and Little League baseball practices, among other sporting events. And there’s no crime in that.
Mothers — and female consumers, in general — recognize the value of the easy-to-eat, on-the-go snack, says Mark Stieglitz, senior vice president of private-label beef jerky maker Mirab USA, Menomonee Falls, Wisc., whose product is produced in Argentina.
“The biggest thing that’s moved [beef jerky] along over the last several years is the health aspects,” says Stieglitz, adding that 70% of the meat snacks business is driven by beef jerky. “It’s low-fat. It’s low-cholesterol. High-protein. Zero trans fat. Those remain four of the big buzz words for people looking for healthy snack alternatives.”
Top 5 Meat Snack Brands*
  Dollar Sales ($ millions) Dollar Sales % Change Prior Year Dollar Share Unit Sales % Change Prior Year
1. Oh Boy! Oberto 66.2 -5.4 21.8 -0.7
2. Slim Jim 51.4 -2.8 16.9 -0.1
3. Jack Link’s 46.2 -3.8 15.2 -0.2
4. Private Label 22.1 39.3 7.3 2.2
5. Bridgford 21.2 -14.1 7.0 -0.9
Total Category 1,566.8 -4.6 100 -6.7
*Total U.S. -F/D/MX (supermarkets, drug stores, and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 25, 2005.
Source: Information Resources Inc.

Beef jerky also is easy to find. It’s sold in a variety of retail environments, from mass and club stores to supermarkets, drugs store and C-stores to nontraditional venues, such as home improvement stores and even Bed Bath & Beyond. Resealable bags make the snack an even more convenient choice. And it’s no secret that America is all about convenience.
Outside the United States, beef jerky is quite popular overseas and abroad, where consumers have been eating dried meats for years. Beef jerky is a “big consumption item,” in Europe and Japan, Stieglitz says. “It’s a global phenomenon.”
Everyday Americans became intrigued by beef jerky about four years ago, when “business was booming … the whole category was up 15%,” says John T. Sargent, national retail accounts manager for World Kitchens, a branded and private label manufacturer that produces its product in Brazil and distributes it through BrucePac of Silverton, Ore.
In 2005, meat snacks accounted for $2.6 billion in sales, according to the Snack Food Association and Information Resources, Inc. And although original beef jerky is a mainstay in the category, a number of new flavor variances over recent years have encouraged consumers to jump on the jerky train. For example, Mirab offers its customers varieties such as Steak Fajita, Chile Limon and Teriyaki, one of the top-selling jerky flavors on the market.
Meanwhile, Chandler, Minn.’s Trail’s Best beef jerky from Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee Corp.’s Sara Lee Foodservice offers 2-oz. packs of its 96% fat-free Teriyaki-flavored snacks for $3.35 each in grocery stores.
In addition to Teriyaki, well-known beef jerky brand Oh Boy! Oberto, a product of Oberto Sausage Co. in Seattle, offers Steakhouse Seasoning, Hickory and Peppered flavors, as well as Turkey Jerky. A 4-oz., resealable bag of Oberto’s 97% fat-free product retails for $5.99.
A self-proclaimed category leader in the Pacific Northwest — second only to Oberto — the World Kitchens brand is best-known for its 1-lb. resealable bags of solid beef strips, which retail in C-stores for $11.99. Consumers looking for a better bargain can purchase that same bag in grocery stores for $9.99. Regardless, available flavors include Old Fashioned and Hot & Spicy, as well as the usual Peppered and Teriyaki varieties.
Other successful beef jerky brands include Jim Beam, Deerfield, Ill., whose new pinstripe packaging and wax whiskey label seal reflect the historical prominence of the brand; Jack Link’s, Minong, Wisc., whose jerky strips are made from premium cuts of beef, turkey and buffalo and boast a genuine mesquite flavor; Pioneer, Farmington Hills, Mich., whose jerky comes in 2- and 4-oz. bags, as well as bulk canisters; and the Outpost brand from Lance, Charlotte, N.C. Although best known for its beef sticks, Omaha, Neb.’s ConAgra Foods also offers its Slim Jim brand beef jerky in flavors such as BBQ and Jalapeño.
It’s no shock that the same brand names that offer jerky make other meat snacks. For example, in addition to jerky, the Outpost and Trail’s Best brands offer beef and cheese sticks, hot sausages and kippered beef steaks.
Consumers who like to “step into a Slim Jim,” the well-marketed meat stick with “snap,” now can choose from flavors such as Nacho, Chili and Sweet ‘N Spicy. Meanwhile, Slim Jim Spicy Beef Chews come in Outrageous Original, Piercin’ Pepper and Tinglin’ Teriyaki taste profiles.
In addition, Jack Link’s recently introduced its new KC Masterpiece Barbecue Pork Marinated Tender Cuts, which are made from lean slices of pork, beef and chicken, marinated in sauce and seasoning blends, and then slow-cooked for tenderness and an authentic barbecue flavor.
The foodservice influence continues at Inventure Group, previously Poore Brothers, Goodyear, Ariz., whose T.G.I. Friday’s line includes meat snacks that emulate the restaurant’s real menu. T.G.I. Friday’s Original Steak Tender Beef Strip Snacks and Mesquite Smoked Steak Tender Beef Strip Snacks are high in protein, low in fat and ideal for carb-conscious consumers, as well as those who simply savor the seasoned taste of a good cut of meat.
The T.G.I. Friday’s lineup, which includes other foodservice-inspired snacks, has contributed significantly to Inventure Group’s net revenue growth, according to the company’s first quarter 2006 financial report. As a result, the manufacturer plans to launch additional “unique new products” under the brand, says Eric J. Kufel, chief executive officer.
Whether in jerky, tender or nugget form, the evidence is clear: Meat snacks have made their mark on health-conscious consumers worldwide. Mystery solved. NP
Deborah Cassell is the managing editor of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery Magazine, a Stagnito Communications  publication.