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Meat of the matter

Robust sales of jerky, sticks and bars give snack-lovin’ Canadians plenty to chew on 

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Meat snacks are taking a big bite out of the snack category for convenience stores. Consumer spending for them is up 9%, according to the Nielsen Convenience Report (July 2019), significantly outpacing other types of snacks, including chocolate, candy, cold drinks and gum. In fact, the meat snack category is the fastest in the convenience store space. 

Customers are fuelling sales based on evolving tastes and habits, as sugary snacks have fallen out of favour, leaving the door open for jerky, steak bars and meat sticks to step in and snag a healthy market share. They tick all the boxes for what customers want from their snacks—good taste, portability, value and satiety. The continued popularity of the keto diet and its focus on protein-focused foods also plays a key role. 

Snacking’s role in daily consumption habits is also creating new opportunities for convenience stores. Canadians’ love for snacks is increasing, with four out of 10 using them as meal replacements: Their growth in the convenience channel—up 4% in 2019—tells the tale. Consumers have found a sweet spot in savoury meat snacks—balancing their craving for something indulgent, yet nutritious. 

Who’s buying meat snacks may be surprising to some. Doug Surerus, director of sales for Jack Link’s Canada, says adults ages 25 to 40 are the prime customers for products like jerky, while pepperoni sticks skew a bit younger. Jack Link’s has snagged the top spot as a brand leader among snack companies. Its success has sparked the introduction of two beef steak strip products (original and teriyaki). This summer, Jack Link’s will add to its new lineup with a zero sugar bar, which is sure to appeal to sugar-shunning keto diet devotees.

Catherine Kurz, marketing manager with The Great Canadian Meat Company (which also distributes Kurtzies Gourmet Deli products), says that there are misconceptions in the meat snack category in terms of who’s buying. “The thinking is that the meat snack consumer is a male who enjoys hunting, outdoors, sports, and works in trades or transportation,” she says. “Though this is largely the demographic we target, we are finding all kinds of people—yes, women, too—are buying meat snacks, due to their healthier nature.”

The strong customer base for meat snacks is ripe for new products. Calgary-based Big Chief is all in when it comes to beef, but other companies are mixing it up with meat snacks made with turkey (jerky from Jack Link’s); venison (Great Canadian Meat’s sausage sticks) and pork (Slim Jim’s hickory-smoked and maple-flavoured bacon jerky). The trend toward ramping up spiciness in foods is still hot, with meat snacks launching new flavours, like habanero, Cajun, chorizo, green chile, and sweet-plus-heat versions. Meanwhile, Duke’s, which has built a reputation for its fresh approach and ingredients, has gotten creative with hip flavours, such as tomato basil and hickory peach BBQ smoked shorty sausages, plus honey bourbon beef brisket strips. 

 

“While one might think that unique, fun, experimental flavours are rising in popularity, we have found it’s actually the opposite,” says Kurz. “Original or mild are still our top sellers, followed by a classic hot or spicy flavour in our sticks.”

Where things are really changing is with packaging. Duke’s offers a range of sizes in well-designed resealable bags for snacking on the go. The trend is to offer single-serving versions, as well as larger sizes, such as the 230g bags of beef jerky from Jack Link’s. Others are also reporting success with larger offerings.  

“Our bagged, larger quantity packs are some of our best-sellers, as consumers want a snack they can keep in their car, in their desk drawer, or in their cupboard for school lunches,” says Kurz, who emphasizes the importance of having resealable bags available to maintain freshness. 

Given the strength of sales, it makes sense for companies to go big to give customers what they want—more tasty meat snacks.

 


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