Meat snacks (jerky and other snacks such as meat sticks) have become a darling of the snacking world in the last couple of years. Between paleo dieters and CrossFitters espousing the benefits of a high protein diet, the gluten- and wheat-free tribes avoiding anything to do with breads, and the continued negative press that carbs have been receiving, meat has come galloping to the rescue for many different types of snackers. However, this has also caused a shift in the style of meat snacks gaining popularity, which is away from traditional simple varieties of beef jerky and towards more complex meat snacks that make use of alternative proteins (i.e., bison, kangaroo, salmon) and unique flavors, marketing artisanal meat snacks that are worlds away from your grandfather's jerky.

So how is this shift affecting sales for different meat snack providers? Link Snacks is the largest meat snack producer in the US, but is also having the roughest go of it trying to stay relevant in this new snacking world. Dollar sales for the company over the past year were down 7% while volume sales were down 15%, which shows the company has tried to stave off larger losses by increasing prices. If any meat snack brand epitomizes the classic style of jerky, it is Jack Link's, and these sales results show that this is not the kind of jerky people are looking for any more.

Compare these results to Krave's, a brand that epitomizes the new wave of healthier-for-you meat snacks marketed directly towards Millennials and which feature unique ingredients. The company ranked among the top eight marketers of meat snacks over the past year in terms of dollar sales. Dollar sales for the company were up 71%, with volume sales up 84%. These results suggest the company is selling more of its 3.5-ounce bags of jerky as well as the even larger bags it sells online, but anyway you slice it, growth of the brand has been phenomenal. Oberto Sausage has also seen really good growth in dollar sales through the introduction of its new All Natural Oberto Jerky brand. The lower unit sales growth and much lower volume sales growth suggests the company has positioned this jerky as a premium brand, with a higher price point compared to its Oh Boy! brand.

However, let's be clear; it is really only Link Snacks and private label meat snacks that are having a hard time growing sales in this fast-growing category. Other traditional meat snacks manufacturers are doing just fine. ConAgra Foods saw strong growth in sales of its classic Slim Jim meat sticks over the period, although it is clear that about half of that growth came through price increases. Bridgeford Foods is also doing exceptionally well with its Sweet Baby Ray jerkies, which pair Bridgeford Foods' jerkies with the well-known BBQ sauce brand. The company actually saw a 37% increase in unit sales over the period, higher than the dollar sales growth, but slightly lower volume sales growth, suggesting the company reduced unit sizes over the period.

Clearly, Link Snacks needs to get itself sorted in this new market, and the company's recent introduction of its Small Batch and Lorissa's Kitchen brands are a step in this direction. However, its doubtful Krave, Bridgeford Foods, and the other marketers are going to calmly wait for the venerable jerky marketer to catch up.