According to IRI data, the $2.8bn meat snack category has posted a sales growth of more than 7% in the past four years, with a growth of 3.5% for the year ending February 25, 2017.
“The coming-out party in 2016 was all about jerky and meat snacks,” Sally Lyons Wyatt, IRI's EVP and practice leader, said at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago.
She said the trend is still on the rise, and 2017 will continue to see new product launches as manufacturers differentiate themselves with novel, less traditional flavors.
“It’s not just the ‘good old fashioned’ beef jerky anymore,” Lyons said. “New flavor profiles have been gaining momentum with consumers.”
Flavors such as whiskey bourbon grew by 79% in sales; sesame registered a 437% growth; and barbeque, which posted a 825% increase, is taking on new variations as companies look “beneath the hood”: picking up on regional taste profiles such as Korean BBQ.
Also coming up in the ranks is chicken jerky, replacing the prevalence of beef, said IRI.
One company that is capitalizing on this trend is New Primal with the unveiling of its date and rosemary chicken jerky at the Expo. Like the company’s other meat snack products, the chicken jerky is gluten-free, antibiotic free and non-GMO.
However, while some flavors are ramping up, others are falling out of favor with consumers, Lyons said. Cayenne, basil, citrus and red pepper have all registered mid-single digit declines in sales.
Consumers snack on average three to five times a day, and IRI said meat snacks will continue to fill this need with portable packaging.
“We found that portable and resealable packaging is really what is delivering value to the consumer,” said Lyons.
For example, companies like Chef’s Cut and Country Archer are repositioning themselves into the protein bar category with meat snacks in the shape of bars or 'bites' in resealable packaging.
Country Archer's recently-introduced Frontier Bars are high protein meat snacks, containing 20 g of protein, 1-3 g of sugar and 110-140 calories per bar.