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Meat Snacks Gaining on Potato Chips' Dominance

NEW YORK — Acting as a meal replacement or pit stop before a formal meal fillup, the salty snacks category accounted for more $27.5 billion in sales across Nielsen-measured U.S. retail stores for the year ended Feb. 25.

Despite consumers’ drive to lead more healthy lifestyles, snacking trends appear to be shifting away from snack bars, cereal snacks and dried fruits. Even salty snack favorites like potato chips — responsible for more than $7.2 billion in annual sales — posted dollar growth of just 1.7 percent in the last year. Pretzels, another snacking staple, lost 0.5 percent in sales in the last year, pulling in just under $1.5 billion.

Looking at the snack category as a whole, opportunity has been found outside the realm of traditional chips and pretzels. Over the past four years, the meat snacks category has posted compound annual sales growth of more than 7 percent, with sales growth of 3.5 percent for the year ended Feb. 25.

A $2.8-billion category, meat snacks is comprised of jerky and sticks, each of which contributes about half of total sales, according to Nielsen. Jerky had a strong year last year, boasting sales growth of nearly 7 percent, while sales growth in the meat stick subgroup was flat after ups and downs in the previous three years.

Other findings from Nielsen for the year ended Feb. 25 include:

Household penetration. While the potato chip category maintains a dominant lead over other salty snacks in terms of overall sales, household spending on meat snacks is a not-too-distant rival. American households spend an average $25.81 per year on meat snacks. Their per-trip spend on sticks and jerky is also about twice as much as it is on popular staples like potato chips and popcorn ($7.42 vs. $3.61 and $4.01, respectively).

Effects of demographics. Asian-American households spend the most each year ($31.61 on average) on meat snacks. This group is 22 percent more likely to buy meat snacks than the average shopper. By age, baby boomers are the biggest meat snacks buyers, spending an average $28.48 per year, making them 10 percent more likely to buy meat snacks than the average shopper.

Location. When consumers shop, they’re likely to buy meat snacks at the same primary three channels where they buy salty snacks, but they buy significantly less at conventional grocery stores.

Other protein varieties. Though much smaller than the larger meat snack category, pork snack products have been trending down since climbing above 6.5 percent for the year ended March 1, 2014. For the most recent 12-month period, sales growth was just under 1 percent. Seafood snacks have been on a sales trend rollercoaster, with growth nearly 200 percent in 2013 and 2014 before dropping in 2015 and 2016. Overall sales in this sub-category came in just under $2 million for the recent year, down from $3.2 million a year earlier.

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