Despite increased communications about the health and sustainable benefits of vegetarian diets and plant proteins, Americans are eating more meat than ever. The US Dept. of Agriculture projects that per capita consumption of beef, pork and poultry will reach 217.8 lbs. in 2017, up 1.5 percent from the estimated 214.6 lbs. in 2016. The largest increase in per capita consumption in the past four decades occurred from 2014 to 2015, when consumption jumped 4.4 percent from 202 lbs. to 210.8 lbs. This increase coincided with American’s growing obsession with protein and the rollout of innovative meat snacks.

Premium meat snacks may have started out as a niche market riding the coattails of the low-carb trend, but today it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down in terms of sales and innovations. This should be no surprise, as today’s consumers are opting for more protein-based snacks rather than sugary, high-carbs ones.

Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Chicago-based Mintel, told the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, Madison, Wisconsin, that increased interest in protein snacks is good news for meat companies, which are connecting with protein-seeking consumers with products like meat-and-cheese combos and upscale jerky. “It’s a logical extension for consumers to shift from protein powders and shakes, to cheese and yogurt, and to meat products designed as a protein boost,” she said.

With the average American currently eating more than 4 lbs. of meat per week, it’s a good bet that some of that volume is coming from charcuterie, jerky and refrigerated meat medleys. Upscale snacks invite the consumer to go on a quick culinary adventure and they are enjoying the ride. Marketers recognize this opportunity and continue to innovate to keep meat on the snacking menu.