For decades meat jerky and meat snacks were considered low-quality ‘Americanised’ foods that consumers could find at a service station. In recent years, however, as consumers have become more health-conscious and particular with their snacking, the meat jerky industry has evolved and grown, especially in the UK. This article details how the UK meat jerky industry has evolved, industry growth drivers in the region, the importance of the European market, and opportunities and threats that jerky producers in the UK need to consider.
Across the UK and Europe, meat jerky has been a smaller portion of the broader meat snack industry until recent years. Before meat jerky gained traction in the UK, the meat snack market in the region was dominated by salami-style snacks, sausages and pickled meats. The prominence of these salami-style and picked meat products in the region is due to the fact that these products are commonly served as delicacies in European countries.
As meat jerky has become more popular in other markets, it's also increased in popularity in the UK. From 2011 to 2016, the meat snack industry in the UK grew by 50 per cent. One of the biggest drivers of growth in this industry is the introduction of new products such as premium jerkies that meet consumer demand for healthy snacks that are convenient to purchase and consume. The other key factors driving the growing popularity of meat jerky in the UK are the influx of smaller market entrants promoting local production, flavours and recipes, and the variety of distribution channels available.
Distribution channels across the UK and Europe vary slightly to the US. In the US, 53 per cent of meat snack sales, including jerky, are made in convenience stores. In the UK and Europe, however, supermarkets are a major distribution channel for meat snack producers. According to Grand View Research, in 2016, 39 per cent of meat snacks sold in Europe were distributed through supermarkets and hypermarkets. Convenience stores are also an important distribution channel, accounting for approximately 45 per cent of distribution throughout Europe in 2016. As a region with a strong cafe and restaurant culture, distribution through restaurants and cafes is expected to be a key opportunity for producers looking to expand their distribution channels over the coming years. Ecommerce channels also represent a significant opportunity for increased distribution as the strength of ecommerce continues.
Similar to other markets such as North America, the UK meat jerky industry began to transform from 2011. Prior to 2011, the meat jerky industry in the UK was a smaller segment of the meat snacks market seen as an unhealthy, on-the-go snack due to its high salt content, artificial flavours, and preservatives. In recent years, however, the ‘premiumisation’ of snack products such as meat jerky has made it a popular solution to the growing demand for convenient, high-protein and organic food products. Add this to the fact that meat jerky has a long shelf life and ease of consumption, and it’s easy to see why it’s become popular with consumers.. As a result, there’s a wealth of opportunity available for entrepreneurial producers to enter the market and meet this demand.
As the UK meat jerky industry has evolved, the target market for these products has shifted too. With the premiumisation of meat snacks, including jerky, health-conscious consumers, millennials and people with special dietary requirements have become key target audiences. A 2017 study by The Center for Generational Kinetics found that within the past week (at the time of the study), 89% of millennials purchased and consumed a better-for-you snack. Of this cohort, 64% of respondents said they looked for snacks with the smallest number of ingredients, while 79% of these people trusted a snack if they could understand everything on the ingredient list.
Compared to larger markets such as North America, where a lot of a company’s jerky sales are domestic, the UK is a smaller market. For that reason, exporting beef jerky products to the neighbouring European market is a key opportunity for UK-based jerky producers looking to expand their global reach. To effectively grow in the domestic market and overseas markets, UK-based jerky producers need to ensure their jerky products appeal to consumers not only with the product itself but its marketing too.
According to research by trade publication, Convenience Store Decisions, 79% of consumers want to be able to understand the ingredient list on packaged products. To capitalise on this consumer demand, many beef jerky products sold in the UK and Europe have at least one of the following terms on its packaging – ‘grass-fed, organic and paleo-friendly.’ Further, according to FONA International, high-protein claims on packaging for meat snacks more than doubled in Europe from 11 per cent in 2014 to 25 per cent in 2017.
The most common beef jerky flavours include teriyaki, peppered, original, barbecue, smoked, spicy and hickory. While these flavours are tempting for consumers, they can’t result in a long list of additives and unrecognisable ingredients, especially if you’re marketing a premium, healthy snack.
The evolution of the beef jerky industry has been driven by the growing awareness of the health benefits associated with a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Eating foods with few artificial ingredients and the convenience of on-the-go products like beef jerky are also key growth drivers in beef jerky’s popularity amongst consumers. Beef jerky is also light and has a long shelf life. This makes it a perfect item to pack for people who enjoy long hikes and camping — both outdoor activities that remain popular amongst health-conscious consumers with adequate disposable income to purchase products like beef jerky.
It’s also important to understand what consumers dislike about beef jerky. Many consumers report that texture and thickness are two key factors that make them dislike a beef jerky product. For example, consumers have reported that lower end jerky brands have inconsistent texture and can be tough to chew. Higher-end brands, however, have a more consistent texture and aren’t as tough to chew.
The likes and dislikes that consumers have for beef jerky differ between value-focused, affluent and paleo snackers. The diagram below details the sensitivity of these consumers between taste, health, quality and price.
Image source: Robert Yaman.
As expected, value-focused snackers are most focused on price and taste. In contrast, affluent snackers are most focused on taste and quality, while paleo snackers are most sensitive to quality and health. It’s important to have these customer segments in mind when producing beef jerky products as it helps to determine which elements of your product that you need to optimise to reach your target market.
One of the most important factors in meat jerky production is the cost of meat, particularly red meat as beef jerky still retains the majority of market share in the industry. Approximately 90% of meat jerky is produced from red meat. As the price of meat fluctuates, price increases can’t always be passed down the supply chain, which results in diminished profit margins. This is a key risk that meat jerky producers need to keep top of mind and address in their business planning and strategy.
Brexit should remain a key consideration for UK-based jerky producers, and businesses importing products to the European Union (EU) need to ensure they remain up to date with the latest trade rules. Fortunately, these rules have become clearer since the UK and EU agreed to a new trade deal on 24 December 2020. The new deal, which came into effect at 11pm GMT on 31 December 2020, outlines how trade across borders will be managed.
Prior to Brexit, UK companies could buy and sell goods across EU borders without tax implications. There also weren’t any limits on the number of goods that could be bought and sold. These two key enablers to free trade in the region remain in place under the new trade deal, which is good news for UK companies. While there won’t be any new taxes on goods moving across borders, there will be additional paperwork and checks at borders. These checks include safety checks and customs declarations. It’s important that companies are aware of the paperwork and procedures required, as incomplete paperwork could lead to significant delays at ports.
Under the new trade deal, some UK animal food products are subject to new restrictions. UK companies moving live animals or animal products between the UK and the EU will need to obtain an export health certificate (EHC). Full details and guidance about the process of obtaining an EHC are available through the UK’s Animal Plant and Health Agency and the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
It’s important to note that while the UK and EU have agreed to identical rules, including those around buying and selling goods across borders, it doesn’t mean these rules will be identical in the future. For example, if one side of the deal negotiates an exception to the trade deal, it could trigger a dispute and the potential for the introduction of tariffs on specific products. This means that the potential for a trade dispute and tariffs is a possibility and risk that all UK companies must continually consider and mitigate.
The proximity of Europe to the UK presents promising export opportunities for UK-based jerky producers. These opportunities include exporting high-quality, ‘clean and green’ beef jerky, but also in creating products that meet the niche demands of European consumers. For example, in Europe, there is high demand for pork-based meat snacks, demonstrating a niche that UK companies could capitalise on as they expand to the European market.
The global meat snacks market is expected to be worth USD9.47 billion by 2021. The UK and European markets will drive a large portion of this growth with these markets expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.6 per cent and 10.1 per cent, respectively, from 2017 to 2025. According to FONA, the largest percentage of global consumers to eat meat snacks in 2017 were:
And with meat snack product launches growing by 115 per cent in the UK from 2013 to 2017, the rapid growth of the meat snacks industry in the region is just beginning. For new market entrants, this is a prime time to bring new products to market to capitalise on the industry’s infancy and recent momentum.
Another promising factor for the UK is the high levels of meat snack consumption in nearby European countries. For example, the popularity of meat snack products in Germany and Spain means these countries could become strong export markets further driving the growth of the industry in the UK. Further, according to Grand View Research, the UK, Belgium and Luxembourg are expected to be the fastest-growing markets from 2017 to 2025, highlighting further export opportunities for UK-based producers.
The image below details the saturation of the global meat snacks industry. As detailed in the image, the UK is a medium-sized market along with South America, presenting an opportunity for entrepreneurial jerky producers to capitalise on the smaller size of the market to become key industry players.
Image source: Mordor Intelligence.
As a mid-sized market, the UK jerky industry presents promising opportunities for entrepreneurial producers looking to capitalise on the changing snacking habits of health-conscious consumers. This is demonstrated in the 115 per cent growth of the meat snacks industry in the UK from 2013 to 2017. The UK, Belgium and Luxembourg are expected to be the fastest-growing markets from 2017 to 2025. For UK-based companies first looking to establish their brand in the UK, followed by export to nearby markets, this demonstrates the powerful growth that UK-based jerky producers can experience from domestic and international sales.
With 39 per cent of meat snack product purchases occurring in supermarkets and hypermarkets in Europe in 2016 and approximately 45 per cent of purchases occurring in convenience stores, there are various distribution channels available to UK-based producers of all sizes. European consumers also have niche demands, such as pork-based meat snack products.
The beef jerky market has evolved in the UK in recent years. Like other markets, beef jerky is no longer seen as a preservative-laden snack, but an excellent snacking option for consumers who value convenience, quality food and their health. However, it’s not just enough to create healthy snacks. The packaging needs to grab a consumer’s attention as well, with easy-to-read labels detailing the health benefits of eating jerky. Companies that create their jerky products and branding in alignment with these consumer needs have significant potential to establish a strong, sustainable business in the UK and neighbouring international markets.