Sweets & Snacks Expo

More than protein: How meat snacks are redefining convenience and nutrition

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Image: D. Ataman
Image: D. Ataman

Related tags Meat snacks jerky Snacks

With more than 40 meat snack brands exhibiting during the Sweets & Snacks Expo, the protein-packed and portable food category is surging in popularity due to its alignment with consumers seeking convenient, satiating snacks to replace meals on-the-go.

As jerky consumers in the US​ reach more than 132 million, a 2.91% increase since 2020, meat snack brands are delivering more nuanced value propositions from diverse species and bite-sized formats to creative packaging designs.

Exotic varieties give consumers varied flavor experiences

Since its founding in 1959, Pearson Ranch offers exotic meat snacks, including elk, venison, buffalo and wild boar that are slow smoked over hickory and oak, reducing the fat and sugar content for a healthier snack, Jeff Whitmire, national account manager for Pearson Ranch told FoodNavigator-USA. The company picked up more exposure after its distribution in hunting and outdoor chains, like Bass Pro Shop and Cabella’s, driving demand for its diverse portfolio, he added.

“[For] the exotic meats, they actually slow smoke over hickory and oak, [where] 95% to 98% of the industry uses dehydration, which locks everything in, but when you slow smoke, the fats render out so you get less of [it]. The sugars render out so a lot of the product is even registered sugar-free when it is finished,” he said.

The family-owned ranch raises its grass-fed, free-range, steroid- and hormone-free elk, venison, buffalo and beef at its co-op in New Mexico, which “is really helping sustain a lot of other ranchers,” in addition to sourcing its wild boar from Texas.

Whitmire added that instead of commonly used preservatives, like nitrates, for its exotic meats, Pearson Ranch incorporates celery powder and organic sea salt, which “ends up for a lot of the exotic [snacks] [as] nitrate-free, gluten-free, MSG-free and soy free.”

At the expo, the company also featured its duck meat snacks, which landed it as a finalist for Sweets & Snacks’ Innovative Product Award.

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Source: D. Ataman

Jerky bites offer added convenience

Jerky bites are an opportunity for brands to harness the portability and convenience of meat snacks even further. Old Wisconsin highlighted its newly rebranded smoked Turkey Bites in Original, Hot & Spice (with a blend of serrano, jalapeno and red peppers) and Honey Brown Sugar.

The new packaging features a bolder, larger font with images that depict flavor and nutrition content. According to the company, its Turkey Bites contain less fat and fewer calories than its other products, tapping into consumers looking for mindfully indulgent snacks.

Space Rocket stands out with cosmic-inspired branding

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Source: D. Ataman

While Space Rocket Jerky’s cosmic-inspired and videogame-esque branding stands out on shelves, the brand aligns with sweet, spicy and even 'swicy’​ flavors that are popular within the category.

Despite Space Rocket’s creative flavor names, the brand makes it easy for consumers to identify the range of flavors and heat profiles they are looking for. Quantum Sphere is a whiskey BBQ scorpion pepper flavored jerky with a tag on the front of the pack that warns: “Heat level is insane.” Time Traveler is a mild jerky with a sweet garlic flavor, while Starlight Charger is a sweet and hot garlic flavor with a "hot" heat level.

Space Rocket offers a  24 jerky snacks that come in 2.5-ounce bags for $9.99 each. The protein content ranges from 6 to 18 grams per serving, and the flavors are natural or artificial depending on the variety.

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