Oberto Trail Mix combines beef or chicken jerky with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and chocolate.

ATLANTA — The latest innovation from Oberto Brands is Oberto Trail Mix, combining beef or chicken jerky with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and chocolate. Varieties include original beef, spicy sweet beef and teriyaki chicken. The products were on display at the NACS Show, held Oct. 18-21 in Atlanta.

The insights behind the launch of Oberto Trail Mix came from extensive category and consumer research, said Stephen O’Hare, director of marketing at Seattle-based Oberto Brands.

“We’ve done about $1 million in research over the last 18 months to look at the meat snack landscape and beyond,” Mr. O’Hare told Food Business News. “We have a lot of other things up our sleeves in the six to nine months, and this is the tip of the iceberg. We’re really looking to change the game in meat snacks.”

Oberto is the third top brand in the $1.3 billion meat snack category, with 4.5% share of the market, behind Link Snacks and ConAgra Foods. The company’s sales grew 18% to $59.5 million in the 52 weeks ended April 17, 2016, boosted by the launch of its All Natural Oberto Jerky brand, according to a report from Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md.

Oberto original beef trail mix
Oberto's original beef trail mix features original beef jerky, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and semi-sweet chocolate.

Jerky may be the brand’s bread and butter, but at its core, the company views itself as “a healthy snack company,” Mr. O’Hare said.

“It was from that perspective, where we looked around in the marketplace, and what seemingly looked like easy entrance, which was trail mix,” he said. “The household penetration of trail mix is quite a bit higher than that of beef jerky. The overall volume or overall dollars are not as high as jerky, but household penetration is something we struggle with in the jerky category.”

The product also brings protein to the trail mix category, he said.

“You can add protein to a trail mix, but it’s usually with a whey or pea protein or something that’s not intuitive to a consumer,” he said.

Oberto teriyaki trail mix
Oberto's teriyaki trail mix consists of teriyaki chicken breast, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dark chocolate.

Development of Oberto Trail Mix began about a year ago at the company’s integrated research and development lab and manufacturing facility in the Seattle area. The team created a proprietary blend that minimizes moisture transfer among ingredients.

“While it seems like the flavor and ingredient combinations are endless, that’s actually not true because there’s a lot of moisture transfer that can happen when you mix all the different components in a bag,” Mr. O’Hare said. “There are plenty of nuts and fruits and even styles of jerky that won’t play nice together, if you will. This is where I feel Oberto is in a unique position. There are a couple players in this space, but I don’t feel like they’ve gotten the secret sauce.

“There’s a brand out there that has two compartments, making the consumer open them and mix it around. That obviously works because when you keep it in two separate compartments, the moisture transfer is not there, but you’re adding packaging costs as well as having the consumer do a little bit of work, which as we know, is never a good idea.”

Another focus of the product development was visual appeal.

Oberto sweet and spicy trail mix
Oberto's spicy sweet beef trail mix combines spicy sweet beef jerky, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and spicy dark chocolate.

“Our R.&D. team was very focused on what the mix would look like, how the colors play together, how the nuts and the fruits and the jerky and the chocolate all blend together in your mouth and also in your hand, how it looked aesthetically,” Mr. O’Hare said. “There was a lot of long hours spent on what the right mix was going to be.”

And then there was the question of whether to include chocolate, a trail mix staple but a flavor not typically consumed with jerky.

“I think there were some reservations on (the chocolate), but we feel like it’s a critical component of trail mix,” Mr. O’Hare said. “It’s what people are looking for, and, again, that was something we spend lot of time talking about. We’ve got a semi-sweet in our original, a dark chocolate in the teriyaki, and a spicy dark chocolate in the spicy sweet.

“The arduous task of tasting chocolates, I’ll tell you, it was rough for all of us,” he joked. “But we spent a lot of time trying to dial the right chocolate that worked with the mix. I haven’t heard anyone not be either enthusiastic or pleasantly surprised with how well the chocolate plays with the jerky as well as the nuts and seeds and the fruit.”

The products will initially launch in a 2-oz single-serve tube format to encourage trial, Mr. O’Hare said.

“For us, that’s going to be a great opportunity to get it in front of a lot of consumers,” he added.

The XL clear bag is a "huge growth area" in the meat snacks category.

At the NACS Show, Oberto also showcased its Cattleman’s Cut jerky brand, which is packaged in clear 10-oz bags with 10 servings per bag. The products are positioned for value-seeking consumers, a growth segment in the jerky category, Mr. O’Hare said.

“The XL clear bag has been a huge growth area, where you’ve got these 10-  and 12-oz bags of jerky, which before were thought of as too big for convenience, and it’s really kind of caught fire as consumers are either looking for a more gourmet product, maybe a better-for-you product, and a value product,” he said. “And that seems to be the growth category for jerky versus that traditional jerky user… These guys are heavy users. They’ll go through a bag in two or three days. Our findings are that these guys are either sharing it with their buddies after a purchase or just keeping it in their car and after a couple days it’s gone.”

Another forthcoming product launch from Oberto is a new brand called Pacific Gold Reserve, featuring such varieties as carne asada, Japanese-style teriyaki, Korean barbecue and bourbon glaze.

“In general you’ve seen these smaller brands come in with very forward-thinking flavors because they feel like, and we don’t tend to disagree with them, that there is a more adventurous set,” Mr. O’Hare said. “As it stands today, I’d say about 75% of jerky sales are what we call OTP, or original, teriyaki and peppered, and these brands are addressing a broader scope of flavors.

“We feel like our brand, Pacific Gold Reserve, is more about what we’re classifying as ‘safe adventure.’ Its flavors people are somewhat familiar with, but still out of that normal scope of original, teriyaki and peppered.”