“So many of our consumers today are using our jerky and meat snack stick products to support their active lifestyle and several of them are following the Keto and Paleo diets,” which severely restrict sugar intake, “so they had been asking us for a low or no sugar jerky product to help them with those lifestyle choices,” Shane Chambers, CEO of Tillamook Country Smoker, told FoodNavigator-USA.
But creating the new Zero Sugar Jerky wasn’t easy, he said, noting that it took the company’s research and development team more than year to figure out how to remove the sugar from its jerky without compromising taste, quality or the eating experience.
Part of the challenge in creating a sugar-free jerky is that sugar plays several roles in the curing process, Chambers explained. But, he added, two elements of Tillamook Country Smokers core process made innovating a zero sugar option much easier.
“For us, it starts with 100% USA beef … and the significance of that is that USA beef is a very hearty beef. It has to do with the way it is fed that it just a more well marbled cut of meat. So, we are already starting from a good place because the way that some of our competitors use sugar to tenderize the product wasn’t required with ours,” Chambers said.
“Secondarily, the use of real hardwood smoke to cook the product is a natural cure,” so again sugar wasn’t necessary, he said.
The flavor imparted by the hardwood smoke in the beef, combined with the gluten free soy sauce the company uses it is original flavor and the black pepper in its sister product also means consumers won’t miss any sweetness previously imparted from sugar or that they might expect in other jerky products, Chambers said.
“It is the smoked flavor that makes it delicious,” he said.
Early adoption suggests a multi-channel success
Early consumer response to the new product suggests that the company’s efforts already are paying off.
“The product has tested very, very well with purchase intent and is very high – well above category norms. So, we are excited to get it on the market,” Chambers said.
In terms of bringing it to market, he added, the company’s research suggests the product will have legs in all channels and not just in the c-store segment, where Tillamook Country Smokers has been heavily focused.
Even as the company pursues distribution from natural to mass to club, it will also play to the c-store or small format channel, which Chambers says has benefited from the consumer trend towards snacking and on-the-go options.
“Some people are busy. They have an active, busy day and they need high-protein, low-calorie food choices that they can pick up in a convenient pack and eat while they are going through their daily requirements. And we are right at the heart of that trend,” he said.
“Jerky is considered a very healthy snacking choice, and now when folks pull over quickly on a road trip or on their way to soccer practice, they can pick up a snack” that meets those needs, he added.
Expanded production, product offerings on the horizon
As demand for not just this product – but naturally wood smoked products in general – picks up, Chambers said that Tillamook Country Smokers is “aggressively pursuing capacity expansion.”
But that doesn’t mean it will make compromises on quality, Chambers was quick to point out: “We will continue to uphold the standards. With us, there are no shortcuts.”
At the same time the company expands production, it will expand its portfolio and zero sugar platform with additional pack types, potentially including large format, multi-serve and lunchbox items, according to Chambers.