11 January 2024, 07:00 AM
  • Speciality Food delves into the new wave of dried meat snacks to find out how fine food retailers can make the trend work for them
What are the best high-protein meat snacks?

The healthy food market has long been in the sights of fine food retailers, whose high-quality products walk the line between indulgence and mindful eating.

Driving a large segment of this market is the high-protein trend. “For some,” says Tom Gatehouse of Insights Lab by Egg Soldiers, “the likes of ‘sugar-free’ and ‘reduced salt’ might actually spell a ‘less-than’ product when it comes to snacking, despite clearly being a healthier option.” On the other hand, “protein-rich snacking doesn’t mean compromising on flavour and enjoyment”. 

This points to a deeper craving behind snacking choices. “Snacking as a concept is primarily an eating occasion born out of a need for enjoyment – a moment of permissible indulgence – with a protein-powered option almost always perceived to be giving you more, rather than taking away,” Tom says.

With protein universally acknowledged to be a positive, health-forward element, choosing to stock products that boast protein benefits is a no-brainer for retailers.

The rise of high-protein meat snacks

One product category wasting no time in highlighting its protein-packed punch is dried meat snacks, such as jerky, biltong and even similar meat-free vegan options.

“Moves are (and have) clearly been made by innovators in aligning dried meat products with ongoing protein trends to capitalise on interest.” Tom says. “The same can be said for vegan versions, with the jerky/biltong arena becoming a battleground for developers in the balancing of saturated fats, protein, and salt contents to keep products firmly within that ‘healthy’ bracket.”

George Rice set up Serious Pig 10 years ago, and he agrees that recent years have seen an overall increase in SKUs of meat snacks on shelves. “Why that’s happened could be simply the natural ebb and flow of trends, supermarkets offering more ‘functional food’ as they cater for the wider needs of their shoppers or consumers being more adventurous in their snacking habits.”

From 2011 to 2016, the meat snack industry in the UK grew by 50% according to Commercial Dehydrators, driven by new products like premium jerkies that met consumer demand for healthy and convenient snacks. Now, as an HFSS-friendly option, meat jerky and other dried meats offer a way for retailers to meet consumers’ cravings for salty snacks with a healthy edge.

Types of dried meat snacks

• Jerky
• Biltong
• Salami

Trending meat snacks

In addition to classic beef jerky, new products are beginning to make waves in the sector.

Alternative meats

“The concept of chicken jerky is particularly interesting, as it’s practically an unknown on the UK market,” Tom says. “Beef is clearly the leader in terms of category,” he says. “But chicken, being so much lower in saturated and trans fats compared to beef, yet with similar protein contents, could easily be a hero style for the growing dried meat snacking movement. Consumer perception will be key for any early moves, with beef clearly ruling the roost.”

Elsewhere, products like Made For Drink’s Chorizo Thins use cured smoked pork to take a spicier angle. “Keep an eye out for fish jerky too, alongside that chicken jerky golden ticket,” Tom adds.

“Beef may be the market leader, but with diets changing and evolving, the jerky market can’t risk being left behind by failing to recognise and push format/flavour/base protein spins,” he continues.

In the same vein are dried insect snacks. Favoured for their high protein content and environmental credentials, more customers are willing to give products like Eat Grub’s Smoky BBQ Crickets or Crunchy Critters’ Smoked Paprika Bean and Pea Critter Crunch a try.

Vegan options

Alongside the emergence of new flavours and meats is increasing demand for non-meat varieties. “Plant-based snacking is set to gain significant traction in the next 12 months as more and more consumers embrace plant-centric dietary choices,” says Kristina Vervoorst, marketing manager at Ohly, which makes speciality yeast-based ingredients that give taste and texture to plant-based protein.

While Tom picks mushroom-based snacks as a winner for meat-free options, Kristina highlights other innovative protein sources, such as legumes, algae and even insects. “Brands are looking to diversify their ingredient portfolios to cater to changing dietary preferences and provide a wider array of options for snacking enthusiasts,” she says. 

Jerky-style strips are gaining popularity because they cater to consumers’ busy lifestyles, offering a quick and nutritious on-the-go snacking option. “We have noticed that consumers are increasingly seeking authentic meat-like experiences. This is where expertise in taste improvement and flavour delivery becomes crucial.”

Flavour fusions

A third of UK snackers, eaters and buyers would look for an exciting flavour when choosing a snack as a treat, according to research from Mintel on the salty snacks market. Arrogant Chicken, for example, has launched a global flavour-inspired range of crispy chicken jerky that includes Spicy Korean BBQ, Indian Tamil Nadu, Caribbean Jerk and more.

Brands, Mintel suggests, must keep familiar flavours while also adding more unusual variants to their ranges to find success, and retailers can capitalise on the strong impulse element of snack buying by ensuring that flavours are flagged up in their snack shelves and at the point of purchase. Look out for limited edition and seasonal flavours too, which can tap consumer interest.

How to sell meat snacks

While most large supermarkets will be focused on value – “This is a very price-driven sector,” George admits – there is a market for higher-quality meat snacks, and this is where fine food retailers come in. George estimates that high-quality producers make up about 10% of the overall meat snacks market. “Over the years I have seen a gradual shift towards better provenance, but it’s slow and price still rules,” he says. For delis and farm shops, this means that there is an opportunity to introduce customers to new possibilities in higher-quality products, such as grass-fed beef. Capture demand for more environmentally friendly meat products by highlighting local makers with strong provenance and welfare standards.

Jerky and biltong are often found scattered here and there around a shop, but George says a more focused approach could be a winning formula. “Retailers should showcase meat snacks together rather than in different locations, for example products such as snack charcuterie that doesn’t need to be refrigerated should be sold alongside jerky and biltong.”

And when merchandising products in your shop, don’t forget about the health angle. “Sound out artisan brands with a firm grip on that saturated fat-protein balance,” Tom adds. By combining these techniques, retailers can make the most of the meat snack boom.