Combining jerky, nuts, dried fruits and seeds sounds easy, but it actually creates some technical challenges given the different moisture levels of the various components, said Jeff Eckert, co-founder of brand owner DS Brands, who has secured listings for the product in 1,200+ locations from gyms, airports and fitness centers to convenience stores.
People don’t want M&Ms in their trail mix anymore
He told FoodNavigator-USA: “We spent a long time developing the cook cycle of the jerky so that it would work with the other ingredients and there’s a tight spec on what can go in there.
“I know other people are looking at this category [which EPIC Bar arguably created with its Hunter Gatherer mixes - although the meat and other components are separated], but it’s not easy to pick up the phone to a trail mix packer and say I want to add jerky, just as it’s hard to call a USDA plant and say we want to add nuts. We’ve got our own facility in Charlotte, NC, which will be SQF-certified by the end of March, so we don’t have these issues.
“People don’t want M&Ms in their trail mix anymore, they want something a bit more nutritious. We’ve created a completely new category that’s natural, gluten-free, low sodium and works well in the beef jerky section or in the health & wellness section in stores," added Eckert, who co-founded DS Brands with his wife Christine.
“It’s paleo-friendly and ties in with low-carb, high-protein trends. We’ve also got a grass-fed beef jerky mix coming out shortly, which will appeal to the more hard-core paleo folks, and we’re working on a Dick Stevens bar, although that’s a bit further down the line. We’re also looking at rolling out a standalone Dick Stevens Jerky.”
Our product smells good
He added: “Our product also smells good! The flavor profile of Dick Stevens products is very different to what you’d expect. You get the sweetness of the berries, the smokiness of the jerky and the woodiness of the nuts, just like opening a bottle of wine, you get all these wonderful flavors and aromas – it has an aromatic smell to it, whereas jerky often smells pretty awful.”
We only started manufacturing about this time last year
The products – which have a shelf-life of 12 months and come in a 2.15oz snack pack with a MRSP of $3.99 and a larger 4oz pack for $6.99 – are available through UNFI, KeHE, DPI, Europa Sports, Albert’s Organics, and some smaller distributors.
DS Brands has also struck a deal with H.U.M.A.N. Healthy Vending, which is aggressively rolling out its micro markets concept this year, said Eckert, who has worked in the food industry for just over 20 years in a variety of commercial roles.
“We only started manufacturing about this time last year, so we’re pretty happy with how things are going so far.
“We’re committed to a year-long program to roll out in H.U.M.A.N. vending machines but also to their micro markets, which is a growing part of their business, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
While the business initially focused on accounts in the east coast, it’s steadily expanding westward, he added: “We were recently picked up by Jewel Osco in the Mid-West, we’re rolling out into Target, we’re developing a club pack for one of the club store operators, and the 2.15oz bags are helping us in conversations with c-store chains.”
We’ve created truly a new product
With Hershey’s acquisition of KRAVE Jerky proving that this is a category that’s going places, it’s a great time to be in meat snacks, said Eckert.
“We’re in awe of what KRAVE has been able to do and they have paved the way for companies like us. But we’ve created truly a new product. When we make sales calls, the first challenge is which buyer we need to speak to, which shows we’ve created a new product, not just a new flavor.”
Meat snacking trends
Speaking on Hershey’s Q4 earnings call, North America president Michelle Buck said protein-based snacking was a hot trend: “The meat snack category is one of the fastest growing, growing double digit in the U.S. this past year and over the past several years.
"And as we look to that category KRAVE was interesting to us because it is really playing in the fastest growing segment of the meat snacks category, the better for you premium segment.”
KRAVE founder Jon Sebastiani, who is remaining at the helm of the Sonoma-based company, also revealed the company plans to launch a KRAVE bar in the second half of this year, noting that consumers are “ready for all kinds of interesting shapes and sizes, jerky, sticks, bars, nuggets, and trail mix”.
He added: “It’s portable protein with less sugar and fat and fewer carbs than other protein options that are out there.”
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