Grab ‘n go protein snacks are all the rage.  Producers of jerky and other dried meat snacks are capitalizing on it, with new products that combine time-tested production methods with more modern demands for healthfulness and transparency.

They’re also finding that grocery and c-store retailers are more and more open to merchandising these hot sellers in different areas of their stores.

The latest product line from energy bar specialist PowerBar, Jerky & Nut Bars, taps into surging demand not only for jerky but for another category, says Nick Stiritz, senior brand manager for Berkeley, California-based PowerBar. “(They) marry two categories that are currently on fire —the bar space, which is growing 8 to 10 percent year-by-year, and jerky, which is growing at a similar pace.”

The Jerky & Nut line, introduced in March, is the third rollout in PowerBar’s Clean Start campaign, launched in 2016, whose aim is to update the company’s product portfolio with cleaner ingredients, Stiritz says. Jerky & Nut bars come in three flavors: Original, Teriyaki and Barbecue. Jerky pieces are made with 100 percent American beef, and bars have 10 grams of protein each and contain no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners.  (Clean Whey and Plant Protein, introduced in 2017, are the other two Clean Start lines.)

Thanks to huge success in recent years, jerky is now a $3 billion market, Stiritz says. Just five years ago, it was a $2.2 billion market. “The PowerBar team has followed the category closely and has seen jerky outpace other leading snacks in both growth rates and dollars spent.” Since jerky is naturally high in lean protein and adds a savory twist to the traditional nutrition bar, it was a natural fit for PowerBar, he says.

The thinking behind Jerky & Nut was pretty simple, Stiritz says. “We created these bars because they’re the perfect snack for individuals looking to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.” They must have known what they were doing: in consumer tests leading up to the rollout, Jerky & Nut “beat all category benchmarks regarding taste and sensory aspects,” Stiritz says. “We think it has potential to disrupt the snack bar industry.”

People love the product’s combination of sweet and salty flavors, the crunchy texture the seeds and nuts give it and the nutritional aspects —specifically, Stiritz says, the combination of proteins and fats, balanced with a low amount of carbs.

PowerBar sees huge potential for Jerky & Nut in retail grab ‘n go applications, Stiritz says. “Since both PowerBar and jerky are powerhouses in the convenience channel, we think this will be a key area of strength,” he says.

With more than 100 SKUs now in its dried meat snack portfolio, Minong, Wisconsin-based Jack Link’s is expanding into new day parts (the Jack Link’s AM line was introduced for those who want a morning jerky fix) and new areas of the store —including the refrigerated section, says Manuel Ortega, the company’s vice president of research and development.  

In January, Jack Link’s announced the launch of three new product lines: Jack Link’s branded Beef Steak Strips, Jack Link’s Cold Crafted and Lorissa’s branded Kitchen Beef Sticks. Cold Crafted, Ortega says, will be sold in the refrigerated section. Beef Steak Strips will be sold in the protein bar section. “Our loyal fans and new customers are eager to bring our brand and protein snacks into new areas of the store,” Ortega says. 

Cold Crafted, which will also be marketed in the “fresh snacking” areas of c-stores, brings together two Wisconsin delicacies, Ortega says: smoked meats and cheese. The line will include three products:  Smoked Meat Sticks (Original, Loaded with Pepper Jack, Loaded with Cheddar Cheese); Beef and Cheese Bites; and Smoked Meat Sticks and Cheese (Cheddar and Pepper Jack).  Product will retail for a suggested $3.49 per pack.

Golden Island, one of many grab ‘n go and prepared foods brands under the umbrella of Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, already has a diverse portfolio of dried meat snack products, says Patrick McNamara, Golden Island’s brand manager —and it’s about to get even bigger.

The current product roster features eight items: four in the Kettle Cooked Beef Jerky category, three Fire Grilled Pork Jerky products and one Fire Grilled Turkey Jerky product. Later this year, jerky lovers can look forward to new entrants, McNamara says. “Golden Island is developing a robust pipeline of innovation to support the growing consumption of protein-centric dried meat snacks,” he says. “We are extremely excited to launch our Hand Hung and Twisted Kimchi sticks and are actively working on new offerings that bring our authentic Asian flavors and techniques to our loyal customers. Golden Island is all about flavor, and the growth of Asian flavors fits right into where we are focusing our product development.”

There’s plenty of demand in the market for those new Golden Island products —and for ones yet to be developed, McNamara says, citing 7 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) sales growth in the dried meat snacks category over the past five years.

Much of that growth, McNamara says, is being driven by premium brands like Golden Island entering the market. “Golden Island is bringing new consumers to the category who are looking for protein-centric snacking options,” he says. “Category household penetration has grown 5.5 points, from 22.6 in 2014 to 28.1 in Fiscal Year ‘17, and we expect to see continued growth.”

Tillamook Country Smoker kicked off 2018 with redesigned packaging, says Tom Smallhorn, the company’s chief marketing officer. Tillamook’s wide product roster of hardwood-smoked meats include five varieties of 10 oz jerky, eight varieties of 2.5 oz jerky and two kinds of 1 oz jerky; seven varieties each of meat sticks; four types of bulk jerky; and six kinds of bulk sticks.

Smallhorn says that while Tillamook doesn’t have any immediate plans to stock its products in instore delis, there’s certainly no reason they couldn’t. Finding new homes for its products has become increasingly commonplace. In California Safeway stores, for instance, it’ stocked next to beer cases.

“There’s no reason it couldn’t work,” Smallhorn says of instore merchandising of jerky. “It’s a category that’s very impulse-driven, so merchandising is really, really important. And because it’s an impulse purchase, it would make sense anywhere. It’s all about secondary locations.”

Not only has the jerky category seen huge sales growth in the past five years, Smallhorn says. The number of SKUs in the category also has skyrocketed. In 2012, he says, there were 350 brands. Now, he says, there are 430. And producers like Tillamook are meeting strong demand for healthier jerky and for an ingredient panel that’s short and that consumers can understand. Some of the company’s products have as few as eight ingredients, and none of them are multi-syllabic additives that make people scratch their heads. “It’s simple, people know what they’re getting,” Smallhorn says. “That’s a big change.”

Ortega agrees that demand for high-quality jerky and other dried-meat products continues to rise. Demand for protein, for snacks, for single-serving packs, for convenience — it all plays into the wheelhouse of companies like Jack Link’s.

Consumers are looking for portable protein-packed options for every part of their day, whether they’re eating breakfast on-the-go, fueling workouts or keeping their hunger at bay between meals,” he says. “As a result of this consumer demand, grocery and convenience stores are adding a new variety of protein snacks to their shelves to meet their customers’ needs


The largest U.S. organic farmers’ cooperative has added a grab ‘n go snack line to its product roster.

Organic Valley Snack Kits from La Farge, Wisconsin-based Organic Valley, which begin shipping in mid-March, feature cheese, crackers and meat in one pack. The line includes three varieties: sharp cheddar and summer sausage; pepper jack and summer sausage; and mozzarella and roasted garlic summer sausage.

The packs, which will retail for a suggested $4.99, have 230 or fewer calories, pack 13 or 14 grams of protein and have nearly 40 percent less sodium than other, similar packs.

“There was a need for delicious, convenient, high-protein snacking,” says Ellie France, Organic Valley brand manager. “Organic Valley’s cooperative of small family farms produce dairy and meat, so we were in a unique position to deliver an option with real protein, real flavor, and a clean ingredient statement with ingredients you can actually pronounce.”