This slideshow was originally published in The New Food Insider, a free newsletter from sister publication Food Business News.

KANSAS CITY — Zero- and low-sugar varieties, premium meats and bold flavors are trending in the meat snack market, evidenced by innovation in 2019.

A number of large meat snack makers have tuned into the low-to-no-sugar trend. In May, Link Snacks Inc. added a zero-sugar variety to its beef jerky lineup. Jack Link’s Zero Sugar Jerky, inspired by the company’s original recipe, is made with lean-meat beef and contains no added sugar. The jerky is keto- and paleo-friendly, and each bag contains more than 30 grams of protein.

"Jack Link's new zero sugar protein snack cuts sugar, not corners," said Tom "T.D." Dixon, chief marketing officer at Jack Link's. "Consumers have been asking us for a no-sugar option, and as makers of the original protein, we're proud to meet that demand with an option that's still an excellent source of protein and tastes just as good as our original flavors. This new SKU will drive significant category growth with goal-oriented shoppers looking to trade a sweet treat for a meat treat, offering the benefits of 100 percent beef protein and now zero sugar."

Chef’s Cut Real Jerky Co. announced in May the addition of biltong to its portfolio. The meat snacks contain zero sugar and have 26 grams of protein per bag.

“American consumers continue to seek out high protein snacks, and more than ever they are looking to reduce their sugar consumption,” said Bart Adlam, CEO of Chef’s Cut. “With zero sugar, our biltong will bring new consumers to the meat snacks category, including those looking for keto and paleo-friendly offerings."

Oberto Snacks in October launched a line of new meat snacks with less than 1 gram of sugar. The jerky contains 27 percent less sugar and 20 percent more protein than the original recipe. Varieties include butcher’s cut uncured bacon jerky and smoked sausages in original and spicy flavors.

Oberto also is introducing Cattleman’s Cut low-sugar frontier style beef jerky that is thinly sliced with 50 percent more protein and 75 percent less sugar than the leading jerky, according to the company.

“More and more, consumers are searching for savory, low-sugar snacking satisfaction,” said Stephen Oberto, vice president of marketing at Oberto Snacks Inc. “We’ve seen these trends play out across categories and have invested in our processes to address this growing consumer need.”

Werner Gourmet Meat Snacks Inc. announced a new jerky product in September that contains no sugar or carbs and has 18 grams of protein per serving. Flavors include original, salt and pepper and unsweetened teriyaki-style. The jerky features grass-fed beef that is made in small batches, according to the company.

“There is a lot of research out there to support this kind of product,” said Lauren Seeger, director of marketing for Werner Gourmet. “We reviewed several consumer and snacking-focused surveys, which show consumers are substantially decreasing their sugar intake year over year. With the high protein and lean grass-fed beef, this product line really is a true meat snack and aligns perfectly with those following paleo, keto, Whole30 and other special diet programs.”

Premium meats are also proliferating among new meat snack launches, including snacks made from grass-fed animals and specific cow breeds as well as those made through premium processes.

Country Archer Jerky Co. in July launched four new meat sticks made with lean cuts of grass-fed beef, turkey or pork. The meat snacks deliver 7 to 9 grams of protein per serving.

“We’re excited to further a clean snack revolution with our meat sticks, and now our customers have even more options when looking for a nutritious, high-protein snack,” said Eugene Kang, co-founder and CEO of Country Archer. “Whether you’re looking to fulfill specific nutritional macros, or simply need some post-workout or trail fuel, our new meat sticks are a versatile, convenient and wholesome food that can easily fit into a busy routine. Unlike other meat snacks that use unappetizing ingredients like mechanically separated chicken, our sticks are snacks that customers can feel good about eating.”

In April, Nick’s Sticks, a subsidiary of Castleray Co., introduced a new version of its chicken snack product featuring free-range chicken. The latest meat snacks come in original and spicy flavors. Sold in 1.7-oz. packages and made with no artificial colors or sugar, the snack sticks are also paleo, Whole30, keto approved and gluten-free certified.

“The addition of free-range chicken snack sticks is a big step for Nick’s in expanding our product line,” said Mark Vieth, president of Nick’s Sticks. “We are very excited to be able to provide another healthy, protein-rich snack with an excellent flavor.”

Professional golf player Greg Norman entered the meat snack segment in April with the debut of Greg Norman Signature Wagyu Beef Jerky, made from a Japanese breed of cow that is bred to produce highly marbled, ultra-rich meat. Marketed as all-natural and gluten-free, the Australian premium meat snack is available in mesquite and teriyaki flavors. Each bag contains 18 grams of protein. Caribe Producers LLC created the mesquite and teriyaki recipes and will be representing the line.

“We didn’t want to distract from the perfection of the Wagyu beef, so the recipes were carefully crafted to keep the taste of the authentic Australian Wagyu,” said Michael Hocklander, CEO of Caribe Producers. “This resulted in two unique styles of seasoning for Greg Norman Signature Wagyu Beef Jerky that we are extremely proud to offer.”

Biltong, a premium meat snack that originated from the South African tradition of air-drying meat, experienced a boom in the US this year. To create biltong, beef is marinated in traditional ingredients including salt, pepper, ground coriander and vinegar, which add flavor and act as curing agents. The meat is then air-dried — never cooked — and may be sliced into strips or formed into sticks called droëwors.

Chef’s Cut’s new biltong product was designed to compete in the US market, the company said. The meat snacks are available in original and spicy chili varieties.

“We're confident that we've produced the best-tasting and most authentic biltong to the US market yet,” Adlam said.

In November, Kalahari Biltong added a lime chili flavor to its lineup of biltong offerings. The meat snack is made with strips of American beef that is marinated in vinegar, chili, lime, salt, black pepper, red pepper and coriander then air dried for 18 days. The biltong is gluten-free, soy-free, paleo-friendly and made with just eight ingredients. Each 2-oz. bag contains 160 calories, 32 grams of protein and zero grams of sugar.

Kalahari Biltong’s new lime chili flavor also fits into another trend in meat snack innovation: bold flavor profiles.

Chef’s Cut is turning up the heat in its meat snack portfolio with a new ghost pepper meat stick. Debuting in November, the spicy stick is gluten-free and contains 7 grams of protein, 1 gram of sugar and 100 calories per 1-oz. stick.

Country Archer’s new meat sticks come in four bold flavor combinations: chorizo beef and pork, maple pork, pineapple pork and hatch chile turkey.

In October, Conagra Brands, Inc. debuted a Vlasic pickle-inspired flavored Slim Jim meat stick. Each stick packs 6 grams of protein and features dill pickle seasoning.

“There’s a huge amount of demand we see for pickled/sour/fermented foods and beverages in the market today, and Vlasic is a fabulous brand that we added with the Pinnacle acquisition we made last year,” said Burke Raine, vice president and general manager of Conagra Brands’ snacks and sweet treats portfolio. “We are able to use technical knowhow and a great brand we acquired to create a really delicious, on-trend Slim Jim flavor.”

Conagra Brands’ Duke’s brand of meat snacks launched a teriyaki smoked sausage made with crushed pineapple and a soy marinade in October. The gluten-free meat snacks contain 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of sugar per serving.

“If you look across all meat snacks, the No. 2 flavor profile in all meat snacks is teriyaki,” Raine said.

Announced in October, Link Snacks’ new Jack Link’s Wild Heat beef jerky is the brand’s hottest flavor yet. Slow-cooked and hardwood-smoked, the meat snack is based on demand for extreme flavors and will be available in January.

Jack Link’s beef bars, made with slow-smoked, dried and seasoned beef in original, teriyaki and cracked pepper flavors, debuted in October. Now Link Snacks has unveiled a pair of bold new beef bar flavors — sweet habanero and blackberry barbecue — and new chicken bars in rotisserie and spicy varieties. The products contain 70 calories and 8 grams of protein.

Also in October, Link Snacks announced new Lorissa’s Kitchen Whole-Made Medley Bars, which combine dried fruit, nuts, seeds, egg whites and grass-fed beef or chicken. The bars are available in a range of bold flavor fusions, including blueberry fusion, pineapple teriyaki, apple cinnamon, cranberry orange, chipotle apricot and sweet barbecue. The products provide 10 grams of protein and are gluten-free and dairy-free.

View slideshow of new meat snacks that debuted in 2019.