It appears meat snacks have gone off, with sales grinding to a halt after last year’s impressive market performance. Alex Beckett examines what’s gone wrong and finds there is still cause for optimism

This time last year, value sales of meat snacks were soaring - up 24% year-on-year.

This has now plunged to an almost negligible 0.7% increase and that's solely down to price inflation [Kantar 52w/e 5 September 2010] as consumers have cut back. Despite a 14.6% decline in volume sales, the frightening thought is that it actually could have been worse: though promotions have driven down value, they have, at least, propped up volumes.

What's gone wrong? The maturing of the market has played a significant role, says Kantar consumer insight director Simon Parnell.

"The year before last, there was a great deal of NPD but that could not be sustained. The market has matured and even the largest brands have seen growth slow," he adds.

But it's not all doom and gloom. As well as an astonishing rise in sales of trendy chorizo (see table, p50), leading players continue to invest, both in innovation and above-the-line advertising.

August this year saw the launch of Peperami Nibblers, a format designed for sharing, and they have already chalked up £546,000 in sales [IRI MAT 2 October 2010]. "We continually invest in Peperami to put the brand front of mind, to retain our existing customers and to attract new ones," adds senior category manager Mike Miller.

The market has also seen the arrival of an exciting new snack. Tillman's Toast Me!, the world's first toastable meat snack, launched in the UK in September. Jon Gymer, commercial director for distributor ZMI, believes the UK meat snack consumer is ready for something new but says quality is also key. "Consumers are more focused than ever on how their food is produced," he adds.

Interestingly, this innovation is focused on one of the few areas of the market that appears to be in growth: hot snacking. Nielsen data shows 2.3% volume growth to £107m, which would look modest any other year but is encouraging today.

Kepak, producer of Rustlers, also continues to invest in its products. But it's not all about NPD, says marketing director John Armstrong. "It's about listening to your customers and delivering what they want, no matter how subtle the changes might be." He says the new sauce added to the Rustlers burger and BBQ Rib products is the result of considerable consumer research, and has prompted what he describes as "a frenzy of positive social media coverage" along with some of the most favourable feedback the company has ever received.

The Rustlers Hot Subs range has managed to buck the meatballs trend, which saw value and volume sales fall by 21% and 33% respectively. "If you deliver a quality product it will sell," says Armstrong. " Hot Subs meatballs have generated more than £3m in sales in the past 12 months."

Producers also believe Kantar's data, which only includes take-home sales, doesn't reveal the full story, and say impulse sales are better than take-home. "Where you find crisps, snacks and chocolate impulse products you now find meat snacks," says James Newitt, sales director at The Jerky Group, which owns Wild West Beef Jerky and BullOx Beef Biltong. "We have 90% of our products on clipstrips which provides an excellent impulse experience."

Introducing GDAs to packaging in the spring helped boost sales among health-conscious snackers, adds Newitt.

"There is a growing market for those consumers who exercise and play sport as these folk will know that high protein is essential for building muscle."

The 0.2% year-on-year increase, to 4.2 billion, in packed lunches occasions [Kantar Usage 52 w/e February 2010] has also been good for meat snacks, with Mattessons launching its Fridge Raiders Mini Bags. Designed for lunchboxes and on-the-go snacks, they were introduced in a single flavour, roast chicken, in September 2009, followed by another, Southern Fried, in May after sales topped £2m in the first year.

While keen to capitalise on the packed lunch market, producers also want to retain their place as a between-meals snack. Interestingly, a recent survey carried out by Mattessons found meat snacks are now being eaten at home as an after-dinner snack between 7pm and 10pm.

And Aaron Khattra-Hall, senior brand manager at Petty Wood, UK distributor for Jack Link's beef jerky, says Jack's Link will focus its efforts on breaking into the grocery channel next year in the belief that the product can turn the market around.

Next year Jack Link's will undertake a national PR and marketing campaign aimed at driving brand and category awareness.

"Our strategic intention has always been to build the brand within the 'on the go' consumption occasion," he says. "We wanted to create a solid base within the convenience channel that will allow us to significantly support the brand."

Focus On Pies & Meat Snacks