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WHAT'S NEW IN JERKY SNACK FOODS

With the return of the Atkins diet and the growing popularity of other high-protein health regimens, consumers are likely to give meat snacks a second look. Last year, Americans spent $251 million on meat snacks, up from $198 million in 2000, according to ACNielsen. Of course, the industry has changed to meet rising consumer demand. Today's jerky products — the heart of the meat snack industry — are designed to appeal to a wider demographic, namely women and health-conscious consumers. As such, their labels are more likely to tout nutritious benefits than shelf life. If that sounds like a lot to chew on, consider this sampling of a few innovative newcomers to the snack market.

TYSON BUFFALO STYLE CHICKEN CHUNKS

If it smells like chicken and tastes like chicken, then it must be…well, chicken. Consumers tired of beef jerky now have something new to gnaw on. This hot-and-spicy, dried, smoked-chicken snack with Buffalo wing flavoring is advertised as the perfect thing “for those moments when you crave something tender and truly satisfying.� The product, a joint venture of Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods and Minong, Wis.-based Jack Link's Beef Jerky, was first introduced at the National Association of Convenience Stores' annual trade show in October 2002 and rolled out nationally in November 2002. Don't be surprised if the chicken chunks (available in a 4-ounce resealable pouch) go over especially well with female noshers watching their carbs.

TENGU BRAND CLAM JERKY

Made from whole “sushi-grade clam,� this dried-meat snack is anything but your average jerky. The manufacturer, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Tengu Company, is best known for its Japanese American food products; it concocted this clam jerky to appeal to the Japanese palate and sells the snack primarily in Japan. Those looking to pick up a bag on this side of the Pacific will have to travel to Asian markets in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit or another metro with a large Asian community.

PRIMAL STRIPS MEATLESS JERKY

As if shellfish wasn't an odd enough core ingredient for jerky, two West Virginia guys decided to remove the meat altogether and replace it with bases of soy, seitan and shiitake mushrooms. Hoping to take advantage of the increasing popularity of vegetarianism and a shift in the demographics of meat snackers (from truck drivers and hunters to a more health-conscious, youthful and female market), Primal Spirit Foods, based in Moundsville, W.Va., began distributing three types of meatless jerky to select health food stores across the country last April. Emil Sofsky, one of Primal Spirit's founders, says sales are so good that the company is adding an average of 10 new stores to its distribution list each day. The meatless jerky is advertised as vegan, kosher, all natural and high in protein. It also boasts no cholesterol or preservatives, and claims to be low in fat, with half the calories of meat. In other words, all the benefits of a hearty meat snack without the heartburn.

Source: Productscan Online (productscan.com), a worldwide new-products database service of Naples, N.Y.-based Marketing Intelligence Service

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