Meat Snacks. Part II

End of the macho era

Until recently, the category of meat snacks was an exclusively «brutal» segment, in which «real macho» sank beer with dried meat snacks. Traditionally, 80% of consumers were men, masculinity in retail was off the charts.

The change has been visible since 2009, when the first women-oriented Bubba to Barbara jerky hit the shelves. The novelty could not take a significant share in the segment, and, far outstripping consumer demand, has not survived to this day.

Almost a decade later, analysts noted that 58% of consumers in the jerky market were women. And although manufacturers continue to target their brands exclusively to men, there is more and more innovation in the category aimed at the female consumers. The era of masculinity is coming to an end.

One of the first to destroy the «macho» image was the brand of meat snacks Perky Jerky. The manufacturer has launched a novelty aimed at women on the market.

“Women have always loved jerky,” says Brian Levin, founder and CEO of Perky Jerky. «Our products are more delicate in flavor, rich in protein and almost zero fat.» These are exactly the values that the female sex is looking for in products.

In addition to beef, the Perky Jerky line of biltongs has been supplemented with turkey and pork products. They also showcased meat sticks in the premium segment, which are sold for $1.99 in national grocery chains Kroger and Safeway and major retailers such as Target.

The demographic trend is also supported by the manufacturing giant of the American segment of meat snacks — Jack Link’s holding (the second place in the market of meat snacks in the USA, turnover of $3 billion). The manufacturer has launched a new brand Lorissas’s Kitchen completely focused on women.

The measure was forced — the manufacturer needed to maintain its share in a rapidly changing category. Since 2015, the sales of the main dried assortment of Jack Link’s have been falling by an average of 2.4% annually, although the market has grown by 5.5% in value terms, and sales of the KRAVE brand have generally grown by tens of percent per year.

The solution was found in meat snacks for women. The more expensive Lorissas’s Kitchen concept is a healthy snack made entirely from grass-fed beef, raised without antibiotics and without added growth hormones. The move helped Jack Link’s meet consumer demand for clean-label natural products, and leveraged explosive growth in the category.

In order to finally gain a foothold in a potentially attractive sub-segment, the snack giant acquired a meat producer for its line — Grass Run Farms from Iowa.

As a bonus, the market leader got beef sticks (also integrated into the Lorissas’s Kitchen brand). In addition, Grass Run Farms produced sausages. This brand was also transferred to the portfolio of the new owner.

Experts assess the acquisition of Jack Link’s positively. Grass-fed beef is a limited resource in the United States. There are very few grass-fed brands certified by the USDA. However, a grass-fed diet produces a much leaner and better cut that is ideal for cured meats. In addition, it is more popular with young female consumers who gravitate towards more expensive meats.

In addition, the manufacturer has negotiated with retailers to sell Lorissas’s Kitchen brand products in supermarket healthy snack areas, which has a positive impact on sales.

In 2019, the manufacturer rebranded the packaging and strengthened its advertising campaign on social media, presenting the image of Lorissa as a busy “modern mother”, greatly improving the loyalty of the paying audience.

Lorissa’s Kitchen’s organic SKUs that are gluten, glutamate and nitrite free, are available at Target, Walmart, Costco and Kroger and a dozen other chain retail supermarkets and pharmacies, from duty-free to Amazon. Retail packaging costs $5.99.

Prior to the lockdown, the manufacturer’s plans included opening an 80,000 square meters outlet in the Flagship store at the iconic Mayo Clinic in downtown Minneapolis. The apotheosis of the interactive marketplace was supposed to be a bar-restaurant in which famous chefs would use Jack Link’s protein snacks in their dishes. But so far I have not implemented this idea.

Meatless meat

While current leaders are comfortable with their category, they are looking to capitalize on the growing popularity of the plant-based food.

Justin Havlick, the CEO of Duke’s Jerky, one of the leading meat snack brands in the United States, said in an interview that the company may now develop vegetarian versions of the popular snack.

In recent years, the sales of Duke’s, owned by Thanasi Foods Holding, have shown an annual growth of 70% across all channels. However, during the same period, some of the smaller brands of meat appetizers saw a more significant growth. For example, Chef’s Cut Real Jerky and Oberto Jerky, both of which grew more than 100% in dollar terms, according to IRI. At the same time, Jack Link’s, one of the leaders in the jerky meat industry, has shown a 2% decline in several years.

So far, Duke’s do not believe that plant-based food movement poses any real threat to the meat appetizer market, even as more consumers are looking for vegetarian products.

The company’s development center is focused on chilled brisket and sausage production, believing that this direction gives an advantage to traditional beef jerky. The manufacturer has been keeping the plans for the release of innovative plant-based products to satisfy consumers who are thinking about alternatives for the time being.

The latest innovations from the manufacturer are three new tastes of brisket, as well as Anjou sausages smoked on natural hickory with a mixture of Cajun spices. Testing was successful and now 3 new SKUs: Honey Bourbon, Chipotle Kebab and Traditional Sea Salt — are retailing throughout the US for $6.89 per pack.

But one of the oldest producers of plant-based foods, Lightlife, intends to change the culture of consumption of jerky meat right now. With the launch of the plant-based brand Smart Jerky, vegetarians and vegans can now participate in the fast-growing craze for jerky.

Smart Jerky is the first and so far the only certified vegan jerky. Made from non-GMO soybeans, this meatless jerky has a familiar flavor profile and contains 9g of protein per 30g serving. The low-calorie product contains no saturated fat and cholesterol, which are often detrimental to animal counterparts because they are not liked by healthy lifestyle fans.

“It took us quite a while to get the texture and flavor we wanted,” says Brad Larman, the Chief Marketing Officer for Lightlife. “But as a result, Smart Jerky has the same density and texture as regular meat. You really don’t know you’re eating a plant-based product when you try our snack instead of meat-based snacks.”

Whether the manufacturer’s strategy will be effective in the sub-segment remains to be seen. However, successful examples from other plant-based segments, such as alternative dairy products, or the success of plant-based meat pioneers Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, which have significantly displaced the traditional meat shelf, are impressive.

Our review would not be complete if we did not mention Meat Chips in it. The naming of the company reflects well what kind of product it produces — potato chips with meat.

In 2016, after eight years of development, Meat Chips launched a line of high protein corn tortilla made from white chicken meat. Each bag of chips contains a record 21 grams of protein and 50% fewer calories than regular corn chips.

Although sales are not currently available on the Amazon brand page, the company is a completely new category. Once upon a time the question «Why did the process of creating a product take so long?» the Meat Chips founder Danny Fillmore responded philosophically, «Meat chips don’t appear overnight, and those that do hit the market tend to fail.» He must have second sight.

          Different formats

The share of innovative formats in the segment of meat snacks is quite small. No matter how tasty the chilled kebabs, Japanese teriyaki balls, or ready-to-eat chicken and fish nuggets breaded with various seasoning options are, together they barely reach 15%. Although their share is growing from year to year.

Enterprises of the HoReCa industry actively try themselves in this direction (20% of purchases of meat snacks are in restaurants). Catering establishments offer packaged meats prepared by chefs. But this is a rather local story, which in FMCG is hardly transforming into a capital-intensive niche, and therefore is unlikely to enjoy widespread investor favor. But there are some successful examples.

A novelty from Expresco is one of them — grilled chicken skewers under the ProSticks brand, which can be served cold. They are produced with minimal processing and no preservatives and contain 23% meat protein. They have a shelf life of 30 days on the shelf or in the refrigerator, making them ideal for convenience stores as well as traditional retail.

There are 3 SKU ProSticks with popular flavors: Mediterranean, chipotle and hot and sweet sriracha are selling pretty well in the c-store channel.

While new entrants are filling the snacks category very quickly, there is still room for pork and chicken snacks for companies in the industry, especially in the premium segment. Alternative proteins — ostrich, elk and other craft meat — also have great prospects.

Oberto Brands sees additional opportunities in the sub-segment precisely due to the expansion of chicken snacks, which is still quite small in meat snacks. This is despite the fact that chicken protein is the # 1 protein in the United States. A novelty from the market leader — ready-to-eat chilled chicken strips in a spicy sauce — should fill this gap.

Brands do not like to be sprayed about their ideas, which is quite understandable, given the tough competition in the market. In which direction the segment is developing, we judge by unexpected novelties, although sometimes they move into the farthest corners of stores and are not in demand by the masses. Although it is consumers who often have the greatest knowledge of product innovation in the segment.

Jack Link’s turned to their fans to find ideas for diversification. Based on customer reviews, the giant of the snack industry has launched shikharona — Pork Rinds pigskin chips. It tastes like dried crispy bacon.

The consumers liked the novelty. To date, about a dozen similar brands have taken off in the niche. From established brands like Epic or 4505 meats to young [and cocky] companies.

4505 meats producer markets its pork chips as paleo-friendly protein snacks that also help reduce food waste. This allows to gain additional fan loyalty. Although the brand’s hit, 4505 chicharrones chips, created seven years ago in the founder’s apartment “out of the frustration of having too many skins left after butchering animals,” has long been adopted by an exceptionally narrow army of beer snack lovers.

Epic Provisions have a fairly large selection of paleo-friendly pigskin chips. Consumers can try 3 new products with 0 grams of carbs and 8-11 grams of protein per serving: sea salt, pink Himalayan salt and Texas barbecue.

Today, low-calorie and paleo-friendly pork chips are seen as an alternative to high-calorie potato chips in children menus.

In addition, it turned out that there is room for interesting innovations in this sub-segment.

Plant-based snack food company Outstanding Foods has launched its vegan version of the shikharon, Pig Out mushroom chips.

Pig Out products are created by former Beyond Meat chef and JUST co-founder Dave Anderson. Chips “no chemicals and no cruelty” are described as crispy, savory and satisfying. As fans of the brand say, «They are so reminiscent of the taste of regular bacon that even meat lovers can hardly distinguish them from real ones.»

Plus, Pig Out is healthier than real bacon. They are rich in vitamin E and contain 73% less saturated fat and 69% less sodium than regular bacon. And since they are made without animal products, they are absolutely cholesterol-free.

Outstanding Foods’ investors include actress Emily Deschanel and Nickelodeon’s Victory star, actress Daniela Monet.

It is rather difficult to call some “finds” of manufacturers innovative in the direct sense of the word. But it’s worth talking about them. For example, Jack Link’s came up with a fairly simple and, as it turned out, extremely successful way to expand their product line.

The company’s marketers wondered: what goes well with meat? They combined meat and cheese sticks in the original Beef & Cheese sets. By adding two crispy pretzel sticks to one of the sets with two meat sticks and two pieces of real Wisconsin cheese, the company brought to the market The Original JackPack set, which has been delighting fans with a delicious snack for more than two years.

Founded in 2014, meat-based snack brand Dick Stevens views nut and jerky blends as the biggest upcoming trend on the market. Its products of jerky bison, free-range chicken and grass-fed beef jerky are blended with dried fruits and nuts such as blueberries, cherries, pecans and almonds.

According to the CEO Jeff Eckert, the company’s strategy is based on consumer interest in trails of nuts [natural and organic] and jerky [naturally hormone-free and antibiotic-free]. Dick Stevens products are now available in over 2,000 retail stores across America.

The 3 renewed Jerky + Trail Mix SKUs are available for $5.99 through national dedicated channels, online retailers and Amazon.

Looking at the shelves, where several new trail products appear almost every year, one is convinced that the hypothesis of CEO Dick Stevens is confirmed — trails of nuts and dried fruits with jerky are becoming one of the drivers of the sub-segment.

Successful competitors in the trail category include Oberto Brands. The latest innovation of the leader is the Oberto Trail Mix, in which beef or chicken jerky is combined with nuts, seeds, dried fruits and chocolate.

Oberto Brands Marketing Director Stephen O’Hara noted that the ideas behind the launch of Oberto Trail Mix are based on extensive category and consumer research. The company is seriously considering changing the balance of power in the meat appetizer segment. Having spent about $1 million on market research in 18 months, the manufacturer is betting on this sub-segment.

Despite its apparent simplicity, the development of the Oberto Trail Mix took about a year. Their own research laboratory has created a proprietary blend that minimizes moisture transfer between ingredients. Therefore, the crunch of nuts, so popular with consumers, the juiciness of jerky, the freshness of dried fruits and the aroma of chocolate can be preserved throughout the entire shelf life in a sealed package.

Other than that, the combination of fruits, nuts and meats go well together. In fact, quite a small part of the followers striving to enter this niche manage to catch, like nuts, fruits, jerky, and even more so, since chocolate is usually not used with jerky, they will mix together in the mouth, as well as aesthetically look in hand and on a plate.

Recently, the brand has delighted its fans with a novelty — dried turkey trail.

United Snacks of America from Westbury, New York, went even further in the development of mixes. The manufacturer has expanded its Farmer’s Pantry brand by releasing Farmer’s Pantry Meal Snacks mixes. The new concept is based on the use of natural spices and a patented method of preparing beef, chicken and turkey jerky mixed with vegetables, corn chips and cereal. Some SKUs can easily be viewed as ready-to-eat meals that further dilute the snack category.

A limited edition Chick’N Waffles Meal Snack featuring jerky chicken and maple waffles was launched for Thanksgiving.

Observing such innovations, one involuntarily comes to the conclusion — everything ingenious is simple. Consumers are looking for understandable combinations of their favorite products, and manufacturers use this desire as a kind of carte blanche — to satisfy such unassuming needs without changing their production cycles much. This opens up a wide scope for creativity.