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    Sweets & Snacks Expo: Protein on Parade

    Meat snacks out in force at annual celebration of candy and snacks

    By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ

    Protein is a key nutrition trend and it was front and center at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, held this week at Chicago’s McCormick Place, where makers of candy as well as salty treats paraded their wares for retailers looking to keep their shelves stocked with the latest in-demand items.

    The single day I was able to devote to walking this three-day extravaganza was barely enough time to hit the highlights, but there was no hiding the fact that 2016 is the year of the meat snack.

    From the big players to the small boutique manufacturers, all were displaying their best in taste and innovation. In fact, there were some 35 meat snack exhibitors at this year’s show, noted Dan Western, national sales manager for Missouri-based Western’s Smokehouse, who revealed the pending release of his company’s better-for-you launch.

    “All natural,” “no added hormones,” “gluten free” and “no nitrates” were among the on-trend packaging claims, along with innovative, bold flavor combinations like kung pao, chili lime and tomato basil.

    And, of course, front and center was protein.

    In fact, longtime jerky powerhouse Jack Link’s prominently displayed the tagline “protein snacks” at its booth, where it sampled numerous new launches including its Lorissa’s Kitchen line featuring more exotic flavors and softer packaging aimed at a demographic other than dudes at truck stops. In fact, the folks at Jack Link’s revealed to PG earlier this year that their data indicates the demographic for meat snacks breaks pretty evenly for men and women, driven by the demand of active adults for snacks with higher protein.

    But perhaps the coolest new product I saw in this category was Oberto’s new line of trail mix. Due out later this year, the three varieties offer a blend of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and chocolate pieces with – yes – jerky, in both beef and chicken varieties.

    Meanwhile, Hershey is pushing its Krave jerky brand into new territory with its new meat bars, blending beef, pork or turkey with quinoa, fruit and grains to deliver snacks boasting 10 grams of protein in each 110-calorie serving. The herb-tinged turkey variety was described as “Thanksgiving in a bar,” and I found that to be pretty accurate.

    Among boutique makers, I was impressed by the tender offerings from Golden Island, which launched a chili lime beef jerky but really wowed me with its bold kung pao variety, along with pork jerkies in sririacha and Korean barbecue profiles.

    Old Wisconsin launched its Natural Cut line of sausage, boasting a clean ingredient profile and a lighter sodium content derived from sea salt. And the guys at Duke's showed some great new flavors for their popular line of small-batch shorty sausages (a weakness of mine).

    Then there’s Ostrim, touting itself as the “#1 sports nutrition meat snack.” Considering itself competition to sports bars rather than other meat snacks, this brand offers snacks crafted from beef, elk and ostrich.

    Of course, for those wary of animal proteins, there’s the treats make by Hotlix, pushing insect protein as a viable alternative to meat with its candied crickets and worms.

    Me, I’ll stick to four-legged proteins.

    More on my encounters with the sweet side, coming soon …

    Follow my live show coverage on Twitter at @jimdudlicek and @pgrocer


    By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ
    • About Jim Dudlicek As editor-in-chief of Progressive Grocer, Jim Dudlicek oversees daily operations of the magazine, spearheads its signature features, produces PG’s monthly Trend Alert newsletter on center store issues, moderates its regular webcast series, and writes and comments about a wide range of grocery issues. A food industry journalist since 2002, Jim came to PG in June 2010 after covering the dairy industry for 7½ years, during which time he served as chief editor of Dairy Field and Dairy Foods magazines. A graduate of Marquette University, Jim is fascinated by how truly progressive grocers inspire consumers to enjoy food, transforming the industry from mere merchants into educators that can take the most basic of all necessities and turn it into something profound and life-enhancing.

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