Today’s Meat Snacks Are Not Your Father’s Jerky


NATIONAL REPORT — In today’s world of snacking and mini-meals, protein is a dietary powerhouse, and that is good news for meat snacks.

“Over 50 percent of consumers are looking for more protein in their diets, and sales with protein-related claims are up 50 percent compared to four years ago,” Cadent Consulting Group Managing Director Don Stuart told Convenience Store News.

As another meat snack segment player put it: “Protein is certainly having a moment right now, and most consumers will tell you more is better.”

Meat snacks have become “the darling” of the snacking world in the last couple of years, the way market researcher Packaged Facts sees it. “Between paleo dieters and CrossFitters espousing the benefits of a high protein diet, the gluten- and wheat-free tribes avoiding anything to do with breads, and the continued negative press that carbs have been receiving, meat has come galloping to the rescue for many different type of snackers,” reported Norman Deschamps, an independent market analyst who works with Packaged Facts. 

Packed with protein, meat snacks are generally considered a better-for-you option than potato chips and other salty snacks. In fact, meat snacks are gaining on potato chips’ dominance, according to fellow marker researcher Nielsen. Looking at the snack category as a whole, “opportunity is found outside the realm of traditional potato chips and pretzels,” Nielsen states.  

Over the past four years, the $2.8-billion meat snacks category posted compound annual sales growth of more than 7 percent, with sales growth of 3.5 percent for the year ended Feb. 25, 2017. Potato chips, on the other hand, responsible for more than $7.2 billion in annual sales, posted dollar growth of just 1.7 percent in the last year. Pretzels, considered another snacking staple, lost 0.5 percent in sales in the last year, amounting to just under $1.5 billion.

American households spend an average of $25.81 per year on meat snacks, with their per-trip spend about twice as much as it is on potato chips ($7.42 vs. $3.61).

Demographically speaking, 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, according to Nielsen.

When looking at age segments, baby boomers are the biggest meat snack buyers, spending an average of $28.48 per year, making them 10 percent more likely to buy meat snacks than the average shopper.

While meat snacks are bucketed evenly into jerky and sticks — each of which contributes about half of its total sales — it is jerky that experienced a particularly strong year last year, according to Nielsen, boasting sales growth of nearly 7 percent.

Jerky has come a long way from what it used to be. Today’s jerky is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s jerky anymore.

Here are a half-dozen signs of jerky’s shift, as defined by industry experts:

1. The artisanal trend in the category has become more significant. Small-batch and craft offerings are at the core of innovation. Smaller pieces and more moisture, with the intent of making it easier to chew, are part of the latest offerings.

2. Improvements to core product lines are prevalent as well. Extra-tender pieces are part of what’s being highlighted. Premium is the name of the game.

3. Lapsed consumers are re-entering the category. But also, women and millennials have become the focus of new jerky marketing initiatives.

4. Cleaner ingredient lists are on the rise. Partially hydrogenated oils, for example, are vanishing from some existing product lines.

5. New flavor varieties are continually rolling out to reflect regional and ethnic tastes. Some new flavors are also indicative of additional daypart consumption, such as at breakfast time. Recently introduced flavor varieties include hickory, maple, teriyaki, sweet, hot, barbecue, Korean barbecue, sriracha, chipotle, Texas chili, buffalo wing, fajita, and more.

6. Beef is still king, but more complex and alternative “meat” proteins abound, such as bison, pork, lamb, chicken, organ meat, turkey, kangaroo and salmon. Organic, grass-fed, nitrate-free and antibiotic-free labels are on the rise. What’s more, added ingredients include nuts, seeds, fruit and trail mix.


According to Packaged Facts, meat snacks continue to be the fastest-growing sales category within the healthy-ingredient snack market, particularly in the convenience channel.

“Convenience stores are at the bullseye of the jerky trends — leveraging snacking and protein,” relayed Stuart of Cadent Consulting, noting that both male and female c-store customers are finding themselves increasingly interested in the category. “Jerky is actually more balanced in its appeal, about 60/40 male to female, than most people think,” he added.

As with many snacks, the No. 1 cross-purchase item with a meat snack is a beverage, typically an energy drink or fountain soda, the channel experts say. Thus, secondary placement near the cold vault or fountain machine to maximize the basket ring is encouraged. Jerky players have also seen great success from retailer promotions offering discounts for bundled purchases.

Meat snack manufacturers are not only ramping up line introductions, but they are also updating their in-store displays and merchandising. Many are working with retailers to maximize shelving efficiency based on the space available and their customer demographics.

Packaged Facts predicts that meat snack sales will continue to see steady growth through at least 2020, reaching sales of $25.4 billion by then. While traditional brands and varieties will always have a place in the category, premium and artisanal brands are predicted to attract new consumers to the category for the first time.

New users of a different species are also part of the evolution. “Dog jerky has proved to be popular and, in fact, if you go way back, it was one of the original jerkies,” noted Stuart. “The humanization of pet food has translated to a whole new life for dog jerky.”

Also driving future growth of meat snacks will be “new chicken and turkey-based products, and perhaps more vegetable-oriented jerky with simple/cleaner labels,” Stuart added. “There is no ‘standard of identity’ for jerky, so the imagination is the limit.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds