The meat snack industry is booming as part of the healthy lifestyle trend for high-protein, low-carbohydrate snacks. The momentum of this category is so strong that the global meat snacks market is expected to reach $11.3 Billion by 2026.
Meat snacks aren’t a new invention – they’re been around for a long time in different cultures around the world. From Parma ham to the biltong of South Africa, there are many tasty traditional examples.
Now meat snacks are entering a new era of innovation, with more choices than ever before. Jerky products consisting of dehydrated meat are just one popular format. New products like meat bars, strips and pellets are capturing interest too with their novel shapes and trendy flavours.
It’s not just the formats, either. The new generation of meat snacks isn’t solely beef and pork based. Brands made with chicken, turkey, venison and even salmon are creating unique snack experiences.
Aside from high-protein, meat snacks offer iron, omega-3s and B vitamins – all in a low-calorie convenience food that keeps hunger away for longer. They are often labelled “Keto friendly” for the hugely popular low-carb lifestyle. All this adds up to the ideal on-the-go food for the those wanting to boost their health and shrink their waistline.
So far, so good. But there’s a common problem that sabotages the healthy profile of meat snacks across all formats and meat types. While they are high in protein, they are also often high in added sodium.
With an increasing number of people replacing meals with frequent snacking, the sodium in snacks is more important than ever.
Jerky and meat sticks
Jerky, that handy dehydrated meat snack usually sold in sticks, has been a convenience store staple for decades. Since jerky is cured with salt, even the basic varieties are fairly high in sodium.
The WHO has set the sodium benchmark target for jerky and dried meat snacks at 830mg sodium per 100g.
Most of the jerky snacks on the market that we looked at had sodium levels of that were double the WHO benchmark. An established American brand of smoked meat sticks contains 1680mg of sodium per 100g. A jerky product for sale in UK supermarkets has 1720mg of sodium per 100g.
The saltiest jerky we found is the original flavour jerky from a popular European brand which contains 2240mg of sodium per 100g.
Snack bars used to refer to granola bars. But not anymore. Meat bars made of cooked meat in an energy bar format are gaining momentum among the active health-conscious consumer, and artisanal meat bars are emerging as a big snack trend.
As a dried meat, these bars have the same sodium targets as jerky. The WHO sets this at 830mg sodium per 100g, while the FDA guidance is 2100 mg sodium per 100g. Most bars we looked at fell somewhere in the middle of these sodium levels, but many exceeded both WHO and FDA targets.
One US company makes premium meat bars out of bison, beef, chicken and venison. Their bison bars are 837mg per 100g, placing them over the WHO benchmark. Other varieties were even higher. Some venison bars contain 750mg of sodium each, which equates to 2025mg per 100g. Their highest sodium bar was the chicken sriracha bar with 2052mg per 100g. Two of these snacks would be 75% of the FDA’s maximum recommended daily sodium allowance.
Because they’re not as concentrated as dehydrated snacks, sausage products tend to be lower in sodium than jerky, however still high in sodium. The FDA recommends 1040mg of sodium per 100g for cooked sausage, and for salami and pepperoni it recommends 1870mg. The WHO sets a single benchmark for cooked sausage products at 540mg of sodium per 100g.
Some mini pork salami sausages sold in individual snack packs contain 1640mg sodium per 100g. Another popular product are mini chorizo snack sticks, containing 1680mg of sodium per 100g.
Cocktail sausages are another variety of snack sausages sold by supermarkets and convenience stores. A typical snack pack of cocktail sausages has 560mg of sodium per 100g. These packs are commonly offered as part of a meal deal. Lunching on one of these 98g snack packs plus a sandwich can easily contribute to to 60% of the RDI for sodium.
Cured ham isn’t a new product. Prosciutto dates back to pre-Roman times and is one of the most famous Italian foods. The resurgence of artisanal foods has boosted the popularity of charcuterie boards – and with it, the beautifully arranged slices of ham that adorn them.
This old-world meat snack is very salty. The WHO has issued sodium benchmarks specifically for Parma and Serrano ham at 950mg per 100g. Sodium guidance from the FDA gives a target of 1270mg per 100g for the entire deli meats category.
All prosciutto products we looked at exceeded both WHO and FDA guidance. Parma ham slices sold in a pack are 2000mg of sodium per 100g. Another popular old-world style meat snack is Spanish Serrano ham, containing 2120mg – exceeding WHO benchmarks by over 120%.
One snack pack of six slices of prosciutto contains 1264mg sodium, which is over half the FDA’s recommended sodium intake for a whole day. A supermarket brand of serrano ham crisps has a whopping 4080mg of sodium per 100g – over four times the WHO target.
The smell of bacon frying is considered by some to be one of the most mouth-watering. We add bacon to sandwiches, burgers, pasta, and salads. So naturally this old favourite is sold cooked in ready-to-eat snack packs for a quick bacon fix on the go.
The WHO puts bacon in the same category as prosciutto, with the same target of 950mg per 100g. FDA guidance for bacon sets a target of 2050mg per 100g. As one of the saltiest foods, many bacon snacks are far above all recommended sodium levels.
A supermarket brand cooked bacon snack contains 2356mg of sodium per 100g. Another bacon snack format is bacon jerky. Promoted for its high protein, this product was even saltier than bacon itself, with 2404mg of sodium per 100g.
Healthier meat snacks
The meat snack market is capturing more and more interest from fitness and health enthusiasts. But these same consumers want clean label, lower sodium products.
So what’s the solution to creating healthier meat snacks?
The solution is simple, and comes in the form of an all-natural sea salt with the same taste and function as normal salt, but with 35% less sodium. This unique sea salt is called SALTWELL®. A simple 1:1 replacement with SALTWELL® delivers significant sodium reduction, without compromising function or sensory aspects.
After 10 years on the international market SALTWELL® has been shown to perform well in a range of processed meat applications, with many sensory studies reporting superior flavour compared to other salts.
And because it’s a 100% single grain and natural ingredient it is be declared on pack simply as “sea salt” – perfectly suited to clean label branding.