This week, emerging meat snacks brand, Chef's Cut Real Jerky Co., announced its zero sugar line of products which includes biltong, jerky, and meat sticks.
The zero sugar trend has spread across the meat snacks category with several brands (e.g. Jack Link's, Country Archer, Tillamook) formulating products to meet a sugar-free claim.
Chef's Cut Real Jerky Co. moved into zero sugar with the launch of its biltong (original and spicy)-- which is naturally sugar free due to its air dried process vs jerky, which is typically marinated in sauces and spices -- in May 2019. The company is extending its zero sugar offerings to its jerky and meat stick products in the coming months offering consumers more variety in zero sugar, high protein meat snacks.
Chef's Cut CEO Bart Adlam said taste preferences have evolved right alongside health preferences. Adlam, who transitioned into the role of CEO in 2018 after serving as CEO/president of siggi's for six years, remembers a time - not too long ago - when the sweeter product would always win in a taste test.
"[Besides taste,] sugar is easy to work with and that's why it's found its way into so many packaged foods," he told FoodNavigator-USA. "The old solution was to offer products that had alternative sweeteners. The more evolved solution is to offer consumers products that are genuinely less sweet."
Not only do they not want as much sugar in their diets, but according to Adlam, consumers are more conscious of not triggering their sweet tooth.
"I think taste buds are evolving, and there’s more and more people who don’t want [to taste] sugar. There really are more consumers that aren’t looking to trigger that part of your brain.They are expecting something that’s going to be a less sweet product. We spend a lot of time on the flavor, but we also don’t try to find a way to trick the consumer into thinking it tastes sweet."
Biltong, niche with a mainstream future
Biltong, a relative newcomer to the US meat snacks category, has a lot to offer in terms of its nutrition profile and answering the consumer call for clean label products.
"Biltong is traditionally a zero sugar product. With that, it’s even higher in protein than conventional jerkys are," noted Adlam.
Chef's Cut biltong contains 26 grams of protein per bag (which is considered one serving at 140 calories) compared to 12g of protein per serving of Chef's Cut zero sugar jerky products.
"Most consumers for sure don’t know what biltong is today and won’t tomorrow... but they sure know what zero sugar is, and an advantage we have is there’s a good chance they know what Chef’s Cut is," said Adlam.
According to Adlam, the strong reception Chef's Cut has received form consumers has propelled into the No. 1 selling biltong brand in the US grocery channel.
Playing outside the c-store channel
Traditionally, meat snacks have dominated the convenience channel. According to Nielsen data from 2019, the convenience channel accounted for $1.4bn in meat snacks sales with growth coming from large, established brand and emerging, better-for-you competitors.
"Convenience is the biggest single channel for jerky, which is very different than a lot of other CPG products," said Adlam.
However, Chef's Cut has been focused on other channels where its premium positioning resonates with consumers, according to Adlam.
Chef's Cut's retail distribution has primarily been in the grocery channel, but the brand is diversifying with expansion into the drug store channel at CVS and launching soon at Walgreens stores.
The brand has also attracted attention in less conventional channels such as cashier-less 'micro markets' (similar to Amazon Go stores) commonly found in urban corporate offices and company campuses.
"It’s a curated selection of what a convenience store might have, and we’ve moved very well in those stores," said Adlam.