ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Anyone who attended the 36th annual Natural Products Expo West March 9-13 would be surprised to know that a mere decade ago, the show was dominated by vegans who often would protest the animal-based products that dotted the exhibition halls. This year, dairy and meat exhibitors actually outnumbered the companies marketing vegan products, and what was especially prominent was the number of meat snacks on display.
What started out as a niche market riding the coattails of the low-carb trend has emerged into a multi-billion dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing in terms of sales and new product innovation. This should be no surprise, as today’s consumers are opting for more protein-based snacks rather than sugary, high-carb ones.
Once a snack relegated to truck stops and gas stations and sold under such leading brands as Jack Link’s and Slim Jim, premium packaged meat snacks today may be found in upscale natural foods and gourmet specialty stores. This is likely due to Krave, which debuted in 2009 and was acquired by The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., in early 2015. Krave is a line of culinary-inspired, sweet and savory protein-based snacks made with cuts of meat, spices, fruits and quinoa.
The acquisition by the chocolate maker allowed the company to expand its reach into the broader snacks space. Hershey also gave the brand the power to grow, and in 2015, sales doubled.
“Everyone is racing to be Krave (part 2) by creating exotic flavors and fancy bags,” said Jeff Eckert, founder and president, DS Brands L.L.C., Charlotte, N.C., marketers of the Dick Stevens brand of meat snacks. “Twenty-five years ago, Jack Link’s did this when they created teriyaki. What is happening today is the same thing, just with different flavors.
“We went back to the basics. We take amazing ingredients, keep them simple, but combine them in exciting ways. We are creating new products, not just new flavors.”
Mr. Eckert’s company introduced three products at Natural Products Expo West under the Dick Stevens brand, a fictitious name “that resembles its contents: simple and uncomplicated. Just back to the basics,” he said. “From the start, the snack was built to fuel activities and inspire adventures, and so it was given a personality instead of just a word to reflect that. The Australian outback hat in the logo is a nod to that lifestyle. The name itself was inspired by a less complicated time when kids’ names were simple and straightforward.”
Dick Stevens is not just a new flavor or variety of jerky. It is an entirely new snack concept combining jerky with trail mix in one bag.
“Trail mix had taken a terrible turn to the dark side in the last 10 years,” Mr. Eckert said. “What started out as a healthy snack of raw nuts, berries and seeds turned into a salty, candy-laden, raisin and peanut blend that is, for the most part, unhealthy. And jerky wasn’t much better.”
Dick Stevens uses only minimally processed ingredients. The meat is processed to be low in saturated fat and contain less sodium than traditional jerky.
The original line includes beef or turkey jerky combined with nuts, including almonds, macadamias, pecans and walnuts, as well as dried blueberries, cranberries, goji berries and sunflower seeds. The three new varieties are beef quinoa, which is organic grass-fed beef encrusted with toasted quinoa, bison hemp, which is lightly smoked bison encrusted with toasted hemp seeds, and chicken pomegranate, which is organic chicken with baked-on pomegranate kernels.
“We are doing things in the jerky category that no one else is,” Mr. Eckert said. “Our ability to innovate is partially possible because we do not have to rely on limitations that some co-packers set. We own and operate our own facilities, which gives us total flexibility.”
The new varieties will hit retail shelves on May 1 with a suggested price of $3.49 for the 2.15-oz bag and $5.99 for the 4-oz pack. The company plans to introduce a new concept in jerky bars later this year.
Wilde Snacks is another company blending lean cuts of meat or poultry with plant-based ingredients. This Boulder, Colo.-based company uses a baking process to combine the meats with ancient grains, fruit and seasonings, forming bars that more resemble a chewy granola bar. The brand debuted last fall with such varieties as maple bacon blueberry turkey and strawberry black pepper bison. At Natural Products Expo West, the company unveiled two new flavors: a sweet Thai basil variety featuring vegetarian-fed chicken breast, coconut, chia and flax seed, mango, lime, ginger and basil; and a turkey cranberry variety made with free-range turkey tenderloins, cranberries, chia and flax seeds, butternut squash, apples and sage.
Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, Minneapolis, wants in on the evolving meat snack revolution and featured a new brand at Natural Products Expo West: Lorissa’s Kitchen. Made with “responsibly raised” proteins, the product may look like jerky, but it has a higher moisture content than traditional jerky, which gives it a tender bite, according to the company.
Lorissa’s Kitchen products are clean label to create familiar flavors with a twist. All flavors are made with sea salt. The four varieties are: ginger teriyaki chicken, Korean BBQ beef strips, sweet chili pork and Szechuan peppercorn beef. A 2.25-oz bag has a suggested retail price of $5.99.
Other innovations that debuted at Natural Products Expo West include bacon jerky from Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, New York. The strips of dried bacon come in three varieties, including Applewood, maple and sriracha.
Thanasi Foods L.L.C., Boulder, Colo., unveiled a new look and products for its Duke’s brand of meat snacks. The Shorty’s line of snacking sausages now comes in flavors such as chorizo and lime, tomato and basil, and hatch green chili.
Epic Provisions L.L.C., Austin, Texas, launched a new line of animal fat cooking oils made from duck, beef tallow and pork. The company also launched a line of bone broths, which will be hitting Whole Foods Market and other natural grocers. Housed in apothecary-style jars, the bone broths are intended to be merchandised next to smoothies, juices and teas.
Closer to its origins, the company is introducing in April a line of wild game meat bars. New flavor varieties include venison, sea salt and pepper; salmon, sea salt and pepper; and boar and bacon.