Can a jerky resurgence be taking place? Could be, because jerky has something very few other salty snacks can claim: Lots of protein. For consumers with a serious fitness schedule, protein is a secret weapon in the never-ending drive to stave off hunger as well as carbs. The protein content in a 1-oz. serving of jerky is similar to that of some protein bars. And today, jerky manufacturers are emphasizing the "natural" and "guilt-free" benefits of the all-meat snack.

Representatives of Krave Jerky, Sonoma, Calif., often hand out samples to marathon competitors. "When they cross the finish line, it's, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so hungry, this little granola bar won't cut it,'" says company spokeswoman Katie Tessitore. "That's one of the most powerful moments for us."

Sales of jerky increased by 13.6% to $760.2 million for the year ended Aug. 12, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago market research firm. That follows several years of growth, including a 13.4% sales jump in 2011. So consumers seem to have a hearty appetite for protein-rich snacks. In a 2010 survey of 2,000 consumers, 38% said they "always or usually choose foods or beverages because they are high in protein," compared with 22% in 2002, according to HealthFocus International, a St. Petersburg, Fla., food market research firm.

Meat jerky "is like Greek yogurt for men," states Lu Ann Williams, head of research for Innova Market Insights, based in the Netherlands.