Processed meat snacks gaining in popularity

Meat snacks are a value added product that can increase income for both livestock producers and meat processors.

Meat snacks are a growing segment of the US snack food market showing a 20% increase in sales over the last five years with an 8.4% increase in 2010. (Mintel, Chicago. Salty Snacks – April, 2011) The meat snack category includes products like jerky, snack sticks and pork rinds all of which are a quick snack to eat on the run.

Jerky is a form of dried meat commonly made from beef with a variety of flavorings and seasonings. It comes in a variety of snack forms including strips, shreds, nuggets and slabs. Snack sticks are a form of a dry sausage like salami or summer sausage and are often vacuum packed in single servings. Pork rinds can be found on the shelf next to potato chips and are a puffy, crisp snack created by frying bits of the fatty lining of pork skin.

Meat snacks have long been a staple in convenience stores accounting for 72% of annual sales. According to Nielson the average jerky customer is male and between 35-54 years of age with a household income of $50,000 to $70,000.

There is potential to expand the market more, however, as women discover meat snacks. A recent Pennsylvania State University study assessed the snacking interests of active women between ages 18 and 45. Evaluating the hunger-satisfying properties of 100-calorie samples of beef jerky versus 100-calorie portions of other snacks, the study found that women reported that beef jerky was far more satisfying and effective at controlling their appetites. Sixty five percent reported that they would select beef jerky as a snack.

Stores are finding that meat snacks can be very profitable. Convenience Store Decisions, a monthly trade magazine, recently highlighted a Michigan retail outlet. The Dundee Jerky Outlet in Dundee, Mich., shares space with a local gas station. The store initially carried some meat snacks that would account for $300 to $500 in sales per week. The store reconfigured and greatly expanded its meat snack offerings and now sells $40,000 to $70,000 a month of meat snack products.

Opportunities may exist to further develop niche markets within the meat snacks industry. Natural snacks that rely on salt rather than sodium nitrate may have appeal to some consumers as well as snacks made from organic or no added hormone meats. New label designs on existing products may also increase the appeal to female consumers.

Meat snacks may be an opportunity for livestock producers to add value to their products. Producers or processors interested in creating meat snacks may contact the MSU Product Center for assistance.