Expo West 2017

Meat snack brand Duke’s won’t rule out veggies, CEO said

Duke's has extended its brisket line after a successful testing launch last year. Pic: Duke's

Duke’s Jerky is currently ranked as one of the leading US meat snack brands, but CEO Justin Havlick said the company might develop veggie options to capitalize on the growing popularity of the plant-based category.

Duke’s, along with protein seeds brand Bigs, are manufactured by Colorado-based parent company, Thanasi Foods, created by Havlick in 2004.

“In terms of creating two [very different] brands, we get a lot of our inspiration from community outreach, as well as the inherant creativity within our team,” Havlick told BakeryandSnacks.

Thanasi Foods has posted 40% year-over-year growth, and Duke’s, in particular, has experienced a 166% growth in grocery and a 77% increase across all channels last year, he added. Bigs, on the other hand, is the fastest growing brand in the seed category.

Premium brands drive category growth

Havlick said the US meat snack category is still growing at a high single digit, and continues to be a strong and large market.

According to IRI data that includes total US multi-outlets with c-stores for the latest 52 weeks ending October 2, 2016, the dried meat snacks category posted sales of nearly $3bn, a 2.64% increase compared to the year prior.

Leading jerky company, Jack Links, however, saw a 9.5% decrease during the period, the data showed.

“What’s really driving growth is the emerging premium brands segment. It contributes 15% to the overall meat snack market, but it’s [really] growing at 70 times the rate of the leading national brand,” he said.

“So it’s a category that’s going through a tremendous revolution right now, which is good for consumers because of new innovations in flavor, format and nutrition.”

Some of the smaller meat snack brands have posted dramatic growth, such as Chef’s Cut Real Jerky and Oberto Jerky, both of which grew by over 300% in terms of dollar sales, the same IRI data indicated.

The advantages of being a mid-sized manufacturer, Havlick said, include “the nimbleness and the freedom of ability to spot and react quickly to growing consumer trends.

“The consumer interest we’re spotting is [wanting] fresher ingredients in their lifestyle, so we’ve [incorporated] real, wholesome and fresh ingredients wherever possible in making our smoked meat.”

Plant-based foods are not a threat

Duke’s does not believe the plant-based food movement is a threat to the meat snack market, despite the fact that more consumers are looking for vegetarian products.

“People will continue to look for higher quality meats. For example, we stand behind 100% grass-fed beef as we believe it’s a supportive element of the higher level of awareness of what people are putting in their bodies today,” Havlick explained.

“Protein is protein… Added sugar and excessive salt are what consumers focus on when they think about alternatives to plant-based [foods].

New product launches

Speaking from Expo West, held in Anaheim, California, this past weekend, Havlick said the company was debuting its latest products, including three new flavors of brisket as well as new shorty sausages.

“The andouille-style shorty sausages are smoked with real hickory hardwood and a blend of Cajun spices. It's our spring/summer release,” he said.

Following the successful testing launch last year, Havlick said the brisket line is giving traditional beef jerky a run for its money. “We have found that consumers are opting [more] for brisket as a primal cut,” he said.

The new brisket flavors include honey bourbon, chipotle barbeque and traditional sea salt, and each 5oz bag retails for $6.89, according to the company.

Duke’s is currently gearing up its product innovation and is hoping to gain more distribution nationwide in 2017.

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