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Meat and cheese manufacturers are heeding consumers’ call for convenient, high-protein snacks

By Kathleen Furore

Consumers are busier than ever these days – a fact reflected in their dining habits.

According to the "2016 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report" from Technomic, Inc., the percent of consumers snacking between meals has risen sharply over the past two years. Fifty-three percent of consumers reported snacking between meals in 2016, up from 41 percent in 2014, the report shows.

In addition, 94 percent of adults say they snack at least once a day, Mintel’s report, "Snacking Motivations and Attitudes US 2015," reveals.

“With consumers’ lives getting busier, snacks are serving more needs than in the past,” explains Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic. “To gain share, operators and suppliers must adapt their snack lineup to meet consumers’ wide range of need states – from tiding them over to the next meal to replacing meals to providing nutritious, supplemental treats.”

Tracking Snacking

Clearly, the lines between snacks and meals are blurring as consumers shift their snacking behavior, the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDDBA) notes.


“Snacking today has become much more purposeful,” the IDDBA’s "October 2015 Snacking Opportunities: Building Better Snacks" study says. “Consumers continue to look for ways to balance healthy, nutrient-dense, purposeful snacking with their desires for indulgent and emotionally satisfying snacks.”


Protein, the Association stresses, is an important part of the snacking picture today. And that is good news for meat and cheese manufacturers.


“Protein continues to be top of mind for consumers, particularly in relation to satiety, weight management, and sustained energy,” the IDDBA report shows. In fact, just over half of consumers today – 51 percent – say they seek out protein in their daily diet.

The fact that Millennials – the demographic so coveted by manufacturers and retailers alike – are embracing snacking in general, protein in particular, is especially good news for meat and cheese purveyors.


“Millennials are significantly more likely to snack compared to older consumers, with 24 percent of Millennials most likely to snack frequently, four or more times per day, and 23 percent snacking more this year compared to last year,” according to The Snacking Motivations report.


And in a list of popular nutrients and ingredients, protein is the number one food that Millennials are trying to consume, according to research from the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

That is where snacks featuring meat and cheese come into play – the more creative the better.


“Dairy, deli, specialty cheese and specialty meats are well-positioned for protein snacks,” IDDBA notes. “While consumers also look to deli, prepared foods and specialty meats for snacking, there is still significant opportunity to develop these areas further as ‘go-to’ sources of snacking: focusing on small, pre-portioned pack sizes, mix and match, alongside freshness and quality.”

A line called Paninos from California-based Columbus Craft Meats is another. According to Columbus’ marketing director, Todd Wehmann, the fact that snacking has become a fourth meal, combined with Millennials embrace of snacking, is driving the move into snack-size products.


“Millennials are starting to dominate the economy, and will continue to for the next 40-plus years,” Wehmann notes. “Snacking has become huge for them, and easy, on-the-go snacks fit into their lifestyle needs. Snacking is really a replacement meal, so consumers are effectively are looking for meal replacements.”

Companies Pump Up Snack-Size Offerings

Paninos from California-based Columbus Craft Meats is a great example of snack-size products.

The Paninos featuring slices of cheese rolled into slices of meat are Columbus’ attempt to capture those snack-loving customers.


“We have three different options – Mozzarella cheese slices with Hot Sopressata, with Genoa Salame and with Prosciutto,” Wehmann says.


Each Panino weighs 3.9 ounces and packs 26 grams of protein.


“The opportunity for protein snacks has been limited, so we are tapping into that and looking for protein-based options. The Paninos have been very, very well-received, and we are looking to build out the line – we are working on fourth and fifth options.”

With all signs pointing to a continued love affair with snacking, meat and cheese companies have a chance to capture a slice of what promises to be a profitable niche.

“The snacking trend is fundamentally changing the way we eat food in America. And with that, it presents a growth strategy for many brands,” Snacker Nation, a 2015 white paper from Sullivan Higdon & Sink FoodThink, concludes. “Marketers who can introduce new, fun, healthy and/or convenient ways to snack will better connect with a large snacking community.”

Snacking is really a replacement meal, so consumers are effectively are looking for meal replacements.”

Hillshire® Snacking Small Plates

Several meat and cheese products designed to appeal to the snacking public have hit the market in 2016.


The line of Hillshire® Snacking Small Plates is one example. Each pack features combinations of air-dried salame, natural cheese and toasted rounds: Italian Dry Salame with Natural Gouda Cheese; Genoa Salame with Natural White Cheddar Cheese; Wine Infused Salame with Natural White Cheddar Cheese; and Hot Calabrese Salame with Natural Gouda Cheese.

– Todd Wehmann, Columbus Craft Meats

Snack-Size Portions Present Slicing Challenges

Adding snack-size offerings to a product lineup does not come without production challenges. Adjusting for weight is one of the biggest challenges Columbus Craft Meats has faced in introducing its Panino line.


“We use slicing to adjust for weight. And since we are slicing both the cheese and the salame, we need the right ratio and thickness so when we roll the products together, the resulting product hits the right weight,” explains Columbus’ marketing director, Todd Wehmann. “We have to adjust the thickness to hit weight on a production level.” 

Selecting cheeses that slice easily and don’t break is also important as the company pursues producing more combo snack offerings. “We have to be able to roll the cheese, so we have to consider how well and how easily we can slice it so it doesn’t crumble,” Wehmann adds.


That is where Weber equipment plays an important role, “Weber’s slicing equipment gives us the ability to vary thickness, which is the only way to control the product weight. Being able to vary thickness by very small amounts without over-producing reduces waste,” he explains. Wehmann says. “The equipment also gives us the speed we need – speed of slicing is key to throughput.”

The Paninos featuring slices of cheese rolled into slices of meat are Columbus’ attempt to capture those snack-loving customers

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