Smart Jerky, which launched at Expo East in Baltimore in late September, claims to be the first and only certified vegan, Non-GMO Project verified jerky from a national brand that delivers many of the same benefits as meat jerky, including portability, snackability, a familiar flavor profile and a whopping 9 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving, according to Brad Lahrman, director of marketing for Lightlife.
But, he adds, the meatless jerky is lower in calories and free from the saturated fat and cholesterol that often detract from the nutritional profile of its animal-based counterparts.
“It took a long time to get the texture right and the flavors right, but we are super excited now to have it ready to go,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained that the soy-based product “is similar to other animal jerkies out there. It has a good chew to it. It is not the kind of chew that is going to break your jaw, but it still has that density and texture so that you really are not missing out on anything by having a plant-based jerky” instead of a meat-based option.
Changing the culture of meat
By masterfully mimicking the softer-style of jerky that is currently popular, Lightlife advances its mission “to change the culture of meat to say you can get your protein from vegetables,” Lahrman said.
One way the product does this is through its packaging, which boldly declares the jerky as meatless at the top of pouch and features a small icon in the lower right corner that calls out “9 grams of veggie protein per serving.”
The package also has a cut-out window that allows consumers to see the jerky, which looks the same as meat-based options. The window is in the shape of a leaf and outlined in green to drive home that the product is plant-based.
At the same time, the package embraces colors typically used by legacy meat snack brands, including bold reds, yellows and oranges, so that consumers can quickly identify the product as a meat analogue.
Finding new consumers while keeping the old
The product launch also expands the company’s product portfolio beyond its long-standing center-of-the-plate plant-protein products for which it is best known and into the snack category.
In doing so, Lightlife has the potential to tap into the booming meat snacks category, which grew 18% over the past five years to reach more than $1 billion, Lahrman notes, citing data from NPD. However, he acknowledges that to succeed in the crowded snack category, the brand will have to reach out to new consumers.
“I think the biggest challenge is the natural snack-buyer doesn’t know who Lightlife is. When we go and talk to our current buyer, we are the No. 1 brand in the category and we carry a good amount of weight. But now we are reintroducing the brand to a lot of snack buyers … so we are kind of starting over from square one in a lot of ways,” he explained.
To overcome this challenge, the brand will rely heavily on social media and communicating to consumers that even though Lightlife is new in this category, it has a broad range of innovations across other spaces and is well respected for its successful product offerings, he added.
He explained that many mainstream shoppers are open to trying plant-based options and that even if they are not vegans or vegetarians they understand that they cannot continue to eat copious amounts of animal products for their health and that of the planet.
“People are just becoming more and more educated on the fact that you can eat chickpeas, you can eat all these different things and still get all the protein you need, but not have the saturated fat and cholesterol. So, it is an exciting time in our category,” he said.
But even as the company expands its consumer base, it must tread lightly so as not to offend or lose its core base of vegans and vegetarians, he said.
He explained that the new jerky likely will be placed in the refrigerator and produce section next to its other products or in the natural snacks section so that core shoppers can find it. However, so as not to offend dedicated vegans and vegetarians, the snack likely will not appear alongside animal jerkies or in the refrigerated meat section where many vegetarians and vegans do not shop.
Whether or not this strategy is effective or restrictive remains to be seen. However, other segments in the plant-based space, such as refrigerated non-dairy products, have thrived by sharing the same shelf as their animal counterparts.