Jerky category still has room to grow by type, location and target demographic, exec says

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Chef's Cut
Source: Chef's Cut

Related tags: Meat

New entrants are quickly saturating the fast-growing jerky category, but there is still white space for pork, chicken and premium products aimed at consumers in the “middle of the road,” according to one category player. 

“Jerky has always been, for lack of better words, a manly outdoor hunting snack, until recently. In the last few years, it has taken a huge shift in demographics”​ with most new products targeting women and niche shoppers who want grass fed and organic options, said Bart Silvestro, CEO of Chef’s Cut Real Jerky.

“Those new players have gone all the way right on the spectrum of shoppers, while traditional players, like Slim Jim,  remain all the way on the left”​ – leaving everyone in the middle open, he explained.

“So, we are going for the middle consumer with a high-quality, great tasting jerky”​ with flavors and packaging that appeal to both genders and all ages, he said.

He explained that Chef’s Cut Real Jerky offers traditional flavors that appeal to long-term, loyal category consumers, but the products also appeal to new comers because they are made with premium, clean ingredients.

“We eliminated the nitrates, include no MSG and keep the ingredient legend short and natural,”​ he said. For example, the firm uses premium USDA Grade Select US beef, including an inside round sirloin, and 100% white meat chicken and turkey breast, he said.

In addition, the jerky is processed so that it is tender enough it can be enjoyed on a salad or sandwich, as well as by itself – which makes it more appealing to new consumers who are turned off by hard, chewy jerky, he said.

Chef’s Cut’s packaging also sets it apart from traditional and other new players. It uses bold primary colors that are a nod to the category’s history, and by extension men, yet has modern fonts and icons that appeal to women and younger shoppers – effectively making it age- and gender-neutral, Silvestro said.

The packs also are unique in that they don’t have a window. Silvestro explains that most jerky products come in bags with clear windows that become smudged with seasoning or show the moisture control pack – both of which are off-putting to consumers.

“We use a high-grade metalized package to keep the moisture out. It has a harder texture and heavier weight,”​ which also makes it feel more premium, he added.

Growth potential for pork and chicken

Chef’s Cut also hopes to tap into white space in the jerky category by offering less prevalent chicken and pork products.

Chicken appeals to more health conscious consumers, placing it on trend for growth, but pork jerky, which accounts for about 6% of products, according to IBISWorld, doesn’t have the same benefit.

Still, Silvestro thinks pork jerky done right will be a huge success – and by right he means, of course, bacon.

Chef’s Cut just launched three bacon jerky SKUs – Sriracha, Maple and Applewood – that Silvestro says are thin, crispy and full of flavor.

“They feel like Sunday morning bacon – but enhanced with gourmet flavors,”​ he said.

And nutritionally speaking, they aren’t that bad, he said. “Yes, it lacks some of the protein characteristics of traditional beef or chicken jerky, which offers 12 grams of protein and the bacon has 6 grams per serving – but the calories and fat are still lean. … And it is still healthier than chips or candy,”​ he said.

“Give people the option of bacon and most people will break or bend their diet for it,”​ he added.

While all Chef’s Cut’s products are the same price, the bacon is sold at a slightly more premium point by coming in a 2 ounce bag instead of the standardized 2.5 ounce bag.

Regional growth opportunities

Growth potential for jerky also still exists regionally and by channel, Silvestro said.

He acknowledged that c-stores are an obvious pick for jerky as they make up 60-65% of the category sales. But, most new entrants are going into grocery stores, which are starting to fill out their meat snack offerings in response to consumer demand.

In particular, Silvestro sees potential for jerky in grocery stores in the Northeast, which he said are “late to the party, but now are seeing the data and just starting a few jerky brands on a shelf or two.”

Club stores also are expanding their selections, he said, noting that many now stock four or five brands compared to just one or two a few years ago.

With these openings in mind, Silvestro concludes: “There is still a huge opportunity for growth and I don’t think it will slow down any time soon.”

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