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    Meat Snacks Getting an Image Boost

    Benefits of protein lead to increase in sales, expanded varieties.

    NEW YORK -- Jerky is no longer just a convenient snack -- it's now a product that is available in an increasing amount of flavors and varieties, creating a real "jerky renaissance," the Wall Street Journal reported. One major reason for the uplift in sales is jerky's high amount of protein.

    Protein helps fitness junkies avoid both hunger and carbohydrates, and the amount of protein in a 1-ounce jerky bar is nearly equal to that in some protein bars. Jerky manufacturers are also marketing the "natural" and "guilt-free" qualities of the all-meat snack, according to the news outlet. Krave Jerky, in particular, has taken to handing out product samples to marathon competitors following a race.

    "When they cross the finish line, it's, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so hungry, this little granola bar won't cut it,' " company spokeswoman Katie Tessitore said. "That's one of the most powerful moments for us."

    Jerky sales increased 13.6 percent, or $760.2 million, during the year ended Aug. 12, according to SymphonyIRI Group data. In 2011, sales rose 13.4 percent.

    In a 2010 HealthFocus International survey of 2,000 consumers, 38 percent stated they "always or usually choose foods or beverages because they are high in protein," vs. 22 percent in 2002.

    Consumers' increasing preference for protein hasn't gone unnoticed. Last year, Innova Market Insights tracked 140 meat snack product introductions, compared to 75 two years earlier, according to the report. Protein bar introductions also jumped from 130 to 240 over the same time period, and introduction of protein-rich hummus products increased from 33 to 55.

    However, jerky product manufacturers face one problem those products do not. "We call it jerky shame," said Tom Ennis, CEO of Oberto Brands, which relaunched its jerky line to include seven "all natural" products. "There's just this nasty perception out there" that jerky is loaded with salt, preservatives and artificial ingredients, Ennis stated.

    Oberto's efforts to improve jerky's image include removing corn syrup, dextrose, the preservative sodium nitrite and flavor-enhancing monosodium glutamate, according to the report. Meanwhile, Jack Link's has changed its packaging from bold red to white to try to appeal more to women, as Krave offers gourmet flavors such as Sweet Chipotle and Pineapple Orange. ConAgra Foods' Slim Jim brand launched a Steakhouse line that brand director Daniel Marple stated is "more in line with the steak experience."

    While the target market for jerky is usually assumed to be men, generally in the 18- to 29-year-old group, there are signs that consumers are changing along with the range of jerky products available. Denver-based Performance Enhancing Meat Snacks found that 60 percent of its customers are women, and its target female buyers are aged 18 to 35, the newspaper reported.

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