Expanding flavors and protein sources in jerky

by Allison Gibeson
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Flavor variety, expansion of protein sources and targeting different demo-graphic groups will drive growth in the jerky market and help it expand into the mainstream in coming years, said Jeff LeFever, director of marketing for Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Minong, Wis.

“The product fundamentally fits with consumer snacking trends and food trends in general,” Mr. LeFever said. “Then you have a category that still has relatively low awareness and is still an infrequent purchase for a lot of people. As that awareness grows and we see people buying it more often, I think there is a lot of upside.”

Currently, the most popular jerky flavors include original, teriyaki, peppered, and sweet and hot, Mr. LeFever said. But Jack Link’s also offers unique flavors such as Jalapeño Carne Seca jerky, and turkey jerky in an effort to expand proteins.

“I think there is always going to be a spot as the market grows for these new, interesting and different flavors, and that’s really just a variety play,” Mr. LeFever said. “I think there is a big opportunity as the category becomes more mainstream to grow some of these alternate proteins, like turkey and chicken, that have a little bit more mainstream appeal and are sort of assumed healthy versus beef, where there is still some question.”

Jack Link’s also recently introduced a product licensed with Cholula Hot Sauce. Mr. LeFever said licensing in this instance made sense because there was a distinct flavor profile and growth in cholula hot sauce.

Targeting specific consumer groups also will drive growth. Mr. LeFever said many are surprised to discover the consumption base for jerky is 55% male and 45% female. While the stereotypical consumers are road trippers and out-doorsmen, he said there is a market among what they call “young, active and driven,” or young professionals interested in the product for satiety and convenience. To meet this need, the company has the Matador brand marketed to younger consumers in their late teens to mid-twenties with the products being more tender and easier to eat in an office environment.

Some companies are even working to combine the meat snacks category with other related categories. In 2009, the Performance Enhancing Meat Snack Co., Greenwood Village, Colo., introduced Perky Jerky, originally marketed as a caffeinated beef jerky containing the amount of caffeine found in two cans of an energy drink. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture took issue with the company’s use and marketing of guarana, the

caffeine-containing additive. The

company no longer markets the fact the product has caffeine, and Brian Levin, chief executive officer, said the product has about as much caffeine as in a Diet Coke. But he also said the amount of caffeine in the product has never changed.

“We are blazing a new trail, and government regulators who have never dealt with this kind of thing before have rules and regulations,” Mr. Levin said. “What we found is people know about the energy component of it, and we don’t even really have to talk to it.”

The company is now marketing the product as upscale or premium, but he also said it has been challenging at times to get consumers to perceive jerky as upscale. Perky Jerky is especially growing in the fitness and nutrition space, Mr. Levin said.

Despite the presence of premium products, it does appear price considerations will be important going forward.

“I think part of the innovation is to try to get into that price-value equation where you can be part of the everyday pantry … relatively speaking, we are a higher-cost snack,” Mr. LeFever said. “The value is there because of the quality of the product, but in order to be an everyday thing you have to get into a better price point. I think that’s some of the innovation we are going to have to do … people are slowly incorporating it more and more into their routine, but we have a long ways to go before I would say we are a pantry-stocking item.”

According to a Salty Snacks report from Mintel International, the meat snacks category had sales of $1,105 million in 2010, up 8% from the previous year. The sales would have been even higher if Oberto Brands, maker of the Oh Boy, Oberto! line of products, was not addressing distribution issues after ending its partnership with PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay business unit, according to the report. Mintel predicts growth in the category through 2015 and said meat snacks are moving into the mainstream with the segment now outselling corn snacks in most outlets.

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