Meat Market
By Anne Ford

Ever wonder what happens to the participants on “Beauty and the Geek” and other makeover shows once the season’s over? Do they eventually grow out their trendy haircuts, spill coffee on those designer clothes and revert to their pre-TV personas?
And what does any of this have to do with meat snacks?
Well, the Atkins boom launched beef jerky (and pork rinds — see “Pretty in Pork”) into unfamiliar territory: the snacking spotlight. As Michael D. Sinner, national retail sales and marketing director for World Kitchens, Silverton, Ore., puts it, “Jerky ended up in places it had never been before.”
But has it stayed there? Yes and no.
“We were at 12 to 15% growth there for the better part of three or four years, and that’s not sustainable,” Sinner says. “Things have kind of leveled off.” Still, “it’s a pretty aggressive category right now. The industry’s consolidating very quickly,” he notes.
So, like reality show contestants revamping their looks even after the cameras stop rolling, jerky manufacturers are coming out with meat snacks that go beyond traditional formats and flavors.
“What we’re finding is an expansion on just your basic flavors and shapes,” says Mark Stieglitz, senior vice president of private label beef jerky maker Mirab USA, Taylor, Mich.
Slimming Down
What’s the first step in just about any makeover? Get skinny.
Frito-Lay, Plano, Texas, just made the first jerky foray into portion-control territory with the February launch of Oh Boy! Oberto 100 Calorie Original Beef Jerky Bites and 100 Calorie Teriyaki Turkey Jerky Bites. With 0 g. of trans fat and 13 and 12 g. of protein, respectively, the products retail for $1.99 and are available at grocery stores and C-stores nationwide.
World Kitchens, too, has acknowledged the trend toward controlled portions with new 3.5-oz. bags of its five jerky flavors (old-fashioned, teriyaki, brown sugar, peppered, and hot and spicy). Previously, the company had offered only a 16-oz. “big bag.” The 3.5-oz. size retails for $3.99 to $4.99, while a 12-oz. alternative sells for $8.99 to $9.99.
Then again, one segment of the jerky market — male snackers ages 12-17 — isn’t exactly lining up for 100-calorie anything. ConAgra, Omaha, Neb., is targeting those consumers with Slim Jim Monster Sticks in original and Tabasco Spiced, which weigh in at nearly 2 oz.
“Monster Sticks were introduced to C-store customers in January 2007 and have quickly become one of the most popular items in the meat snacks category,” says Genevieve Mazzeo, ConAgra product publicity manager.
Pork Rinds — Top 5 Brands
(For 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1 Baken Ets $22.6 -8.9 23.6 -1.3
2 Private Label $10.2 +4.7 10.7 +0.9
3 Macs $6.1 -11.0 6.3 -0.5
4 Golden Flake $5.4 +36.4 5.6 +1.7
5 Guerrero $4.4 +48.2 4.6 +1.6
Total, including brands not shown $95.7 -3.8 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
The Natural Look?
Back when meat snacks were primarily seen as snacks for the hunting-trip and NASCAR crowd, the idea of organic jerky would have seemed about as likely as Birkenstocks at a monster-truck rally.
But now that the consumer demographic is less clearly defined, “this category can be elevated to the next level of consumer demand,” Stieglitz says.
And consumers are demanding organic.
Mirab USA officially launched its organic jerky (in original, teriyaki and pepper flavors) on Jan. 1. The line also includes Farmers Market Organic Beef Jerky Beef Steak Nuggets and private label Organic Beef Jerky Beef Steak Nuggets. Organic’s been well received by both traditional and natural retailers, Stieglitz says.
“Cost is not a factor in jerky,” he adds. Consumers seeking organic products “are willing to pay a higher price that gives them exactly what they’re looking for,” he says.
Dried Meat Snacks — Top 5 Brands
(For 52 weeks ending March 25, 2007)
Rank Brand Dollar Sales (in millions) % Change Dollar Share Dollar Share Change vs. Previous Year
1 Jack Link’s $63.4 +30.5 21.2 +5.5
2 Oh Boy! Oberto $61.8 -4.0 20.7 -0.2
3 Slim Jim $49.7 -3.6 16.7 -0.1
4 Private Label $27.4 +12.9 9.2 +1.3
5 Bridgford $19.0 -9.7 6.4 -0.5
Total, including brands now shown $298.3 -3.3 100.0  
Source: Information Resources, Inc.
Total U.S. – Supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)
Fashionable Flavors
Jerky varieties that once seemed exotic — buffalo and teriyaki come to mind — now are industry standards.
During the last year, industry giant Jack Link’s, Minong, Wis., introduced what might become classics in their own right: ham jerky and chicken jerky. Jack Link’s Premium Cuts Maple and Brown Sugar Ham Jerky, and Maple and Brown Sugar Pork Tender Cuts were launched last fall. Other innovations from the company include Chicken Fajita Tender Cuts. All are available in 3.5-oz. bags.
Contestants on “Beauty and the Geek” leave the show new and improved. So have meat snacks changed, in both convenience and flavor. Just call it a meat makeover … SOI
Pretty in Pork
Like the rest of the meat snack market, pork rinds’ fortunes have surged and fallen with the Atkins craze. Consumer demand rocketed in 2004, dived in 2005 and rebounded in 2006, aided by kudos from magazines such as Men’s Health, which lauded pork rinds as a “Genius Junk Food” in its December issue.
While “‘low-fat pork rinds’ is like ‘jumbo shrimp’ or ‘honest politician,’” Mark Singleton, vice president of sales and marketing, Rudolph Foods, Lima, Ohio, says, consumers are continuing to discover that much of the product’s fat is unsaturated.
“When you can be in Men’s Health as a pork rind,” he says proudly, “that’s pretty cool.”
New products from Rudolph include Cracklin Strips and Tender Cracklin Strips. The company’s brands are Pepe’s, Rudolph’s and Grandpa John’s.
Snak King, City of Industry, Calif., also makes cracklins (such as the El Sabroso Regular and Hot & Spicy), as does Evans Foods, Chicago, which produces them under private label brands.