michael-ollerup.jpgWith 10% annual value growth (PS&A Data, 23 Sept 2008), meat snacks is the fastest growing area in UK convenience savoury snacks. Jack Link’s, the world’s leading ready-to-eat meat snacks brand, has seen a 10% increase this year. Now Jack Link’s is going all out to drive the market further with the imminent launch of a brace of exciting new products for self-treating and sharing. These include X-Bites and X-Sticks, the UK’s first ‘light’ sausage snacks, which will be followed next year by Jack Pack and Double Pack, sharing packs combining light sausages, breadsticks and light cheese. Michael Ollerup, European Managing Director of Jack Link’s, spoke to The Grocery Trader.

The Grocery Trader – First question: what exactly is Jack Link’s Beef Jerky?
Jack Link’s Beef Jerky is made with prime beef that is thinly sliced, seasoned, cooked and dried. There’s no moisture, so it has 12 months’ shelf life. Our Beef Steak Bites are chunky beef pieces, processed the same way but with a juicier texture. We use high quality, low fat New Zealand beef, with processing plants in the US and New Zealand.

GT – What’s the difference between beef jerky and biltong?
Beef Jerky and biltong are made using a similar processes. Jack Link’s takes the process to a higher level with different flavours, consistent quality and importantly, branding.

jack-links-logo.jpgGT – How have the last two years been for Jack Link’s in the UK?
There’s still plenty of excitement in the business. There are plenty of challenges, but the market is still there for us. We have a set of products that are low in fat and calories: the constant media coverage about healthy eating and avoiding foods that are bad for us is a major driver, and the market has been growing on its own.

We’ve developed a presence in many retail chains and in different sales areas in the UK. This is Europe’s second biggest market for snacks, and is still expanding. We are especially strong in convenience outlets, where we offer a healthier alternative to more fatty snacks.

GT – When did you join Jack Link’s, and what were you doing before?
I joined in October 2007, in my present role as European MD. I have over 30 years’ experience in the European retailing industry. Before this I worked for various international FMCG companies. I spent 12 years with Carlsberg in Denmark and England, and 10 years with Coca-Cola in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, where I was MD of the national sales company, which was also responsible for dealing with the discounters.

GT – How does working for Jack Link’s compare with Coca Cola?
Jack Link’s is very exciting. Coca Cola is a world brand leader: Jack Link’s still has plenty of opportunities and challenges to meet.

GT – Where is Jack Link’s global HQ?
Our global HQ is in Minong, Wisconsin, in the woods of North America. Mr Jack Link founded the company 28 years ago. His grandfather came from Germany to the US, and his father was a butcher. Jack Link is still active in the business, and his son Troy, 34, is the CEO. It’s a family business.

GT – How big is Jack Link’s? How many countries are you active in?
The US market for beef jerky is $US 3.5 billion, of which we have a 45% share, making Jack Link’s a multi-billion dollar company. We have offices in 10 countries in Europe. Jack Link’s is also big in Canada, the US and New Zealand and we export to Japan and Australia. We also work with a growing number of importers in other countries, including Russia.

GT – Where is your European head office? As European MD, how much time do you spend here?
Our European base is in the centre of the old West Berlin. I spend half my time here at our offices in Northampton.

GT – How important is the UK to your overall European sales effort?
The UK is our second biggest market in Europe: it’s the centre of Europe, with many advantages including close links to the US. The UK is the best start for going into Europe, as many big US brands have proved. The UK’s always open for new products: consumers are a lot less conservative than in Germany, for instance.

GT – Where are your UK products developed? Where are they made?
The Jack Link’s products we sell here all originated in the US. Our Beef Jerky and Beef Steak Bites come from our factories in the US or New Zealand. The new sausage products come from Germany.

GT – How big is the Jack Link’s brand in the UK?
Jack Link’s has a strong presence in the meat convenience snacks market and is second in the category. We’re a growing brand, winning new customers every day.

GT – How are your sales doing in the multiple grocery sector?
It’s very difficult to build brands in the multiple grocers, and takes major investment. For the last two years we’ve focused on the convenience trade, petrol stations, WH Smith and airports with great success. We are now moving into the multiples with a retail strategy to compliment the brand growth and sales in the convenience sector. The new sausage products will be particularly good for them, as they will introduce new consumers to the Jack Link’s brand.

GT – Do you get personally involved in talking to the big UK retailers?
I’ve been seeing the big retailers for the last 20 years in my previous roles. I made the initial calls for Jack Link’s when we started and now the UK sales and distribution is handled by Euro Food Brands Ltd, who I work closely with on strategy and marketing.

GT – How do the big retailers here compare with their German counterparts? Are the big supermarkets acting more like discounters these days?
The big retailers here are in a stronger position when it comes to competing with the discounters. The German discounters have grown strongly over the last 50 years and have 55% of the market.

The UK retailers have recently started competing with the likes of Aldi, Lidl and Netto, but have the distinct advantage of larger stores and a wider range of goods to suit all consumer needs.

GT – What are the current products in the Jack Link’s UK retail range?
We supply 25g Beef Jerky to the convenience trade in four flavours, Original, Sweet and Hot, Teriyaki and Peppered Beef. Beef Steak Bites come in Original and Teriyaki. We also offer 100g packs of all six products. The biggest SKUs are Beef Jerky Original and Sweet & Hot 25g, but Beef Steak Bites are doing well where they are listed.

kitchen.jpgGT – What are the new products in the UK range?
The new products are X-Bites and X-Sticks. Jack Link’s X-Bites are small pieces of sausage, in a rip and tip pack for one-hand eating on the go, 36g for C-stores and 72g for grocers. They’re the first such product in the UK. A light, healthy alternative snack, they’re also available in Germany, hence the bi-lingual packs. X-Bites’ nutrition content panel is a prominent part of the pack front. It’s a logical development from Beef Jerky – we couldn’t go out with a 50% fat sausage.

The eye-catching designs have had a very good response. They’re new and exciting: people were ordering before seeing the finished packs.

GT – What are X-Sticks?
X-Sticks are two sausages in a handy pack. The sausage is made without a casing, and at only 27% fat isn’t greasy. To be ‘light’ you must have 30% less fat than the average sausage, which is around 45 to 50% fat. X-Sticks are significantly lower than that. To make 1 kg of our sausage takes 2 kg of meat, which is minced, seasoned, cooked and dried.

GT – What do they cost and when are they available?
The recommended retail prices are X-Sticks 89p, and X-Bites 36g £1.19 and 72g £2.19. They go on shelf from 1 January.

GT – You’re also bringing out some products called Jack Pack and Double Jack. Can you tell us about those?
Jack Packs are combo packs containing two sausage sticks, two cheese sticks and two pretzel sticks. They are a whole meal solution, aimed at everyone from multiple grocers to airlines, hotel mini-bars and petrol stations. Double Jack is a sausage and a stick of cheese. In the US they are very successful and we will be launching them in the second quarter of 2009. We’re already talking to the grocers about them.

GT – Any plans to produce a very big bag of Jack Link’s Beef Jerky for sharing?
We’ve no plans for producing big bags like crisps or snacks. Meat has a very different price point from potatoes, so it would be totally uneconomic. The 100g format will change to a new 75g packet in 2009 for this reason.

GT – How do you make a meat snack ‘light’ and keep it tasty?
X-Bite and X-Sticks are easy to keep tasty. The meat is seasoned, smoked, cooked and dried and still has 27% fat, to keep it juicy.

GT – Who are your different UK products aimed at?
Our UK products are aimed at the mass market: Beef Jerky is eaten within 30 minutes of purchase by people on the go. Our new range has a broad appeal to a wide range of consumers looking for a tasty and healthier alternative to traditional sausage-based snacks, savoury snacks and even confectionery.  Beef Jerky is high in protein but low in fat and calories, making it a healthy, convenient and tasty snack for all.

GT – How significant a factor in sales terms is the search for healthier alternatives?
Healthy living is a total development in the UK, where salty snack sales are declining 5% annually. The pressure is on consumers across Europe to eat more healthily: healthy snacks are growing and we’ve been riding this trend for the last few years.

GT – If a retailer only has room for a few facings of Jack Link’s products, which should they stock?
Jack Link’s Beef Jerky is the best known and selling product, and of course X-Bites will be a great introduction to those who do not know the Jack Link’s brand.

GT – Where should you merchandise these products in a supermarket or a C-store for best results?
Beef Jerky and X-Bites are generally eaten within 30 minutes of purchase, so should be sited near the checkout and the lunchtime offering, with sandwiches, crisps and on clip strips in impulse areas around the store. Euro Food Brands Ltd has a dedicated category management team offering help and advice on the best products for individual retailers.

x-sticks-office.jpgGT – How does Jack Link’s compare in price and premium positioning with other similar products?
Jack Link’s products are premium quality and the prices reflect this. X-Sticks are 89p and Beef Jerky is £1.49, which might seem expensive but when you remember it’s prime meat, it is good value for money when compared to potato snacks! These price points give the same margin as similar snack products.

GT – What Jack Link’s merchandising and POS material is available to retailers?
The Jack Link’s range is being supported with an extensive range of point of sale and in-store merchandising, including stand alone display cases, clip strips and counter-top dispensers.

We’ve also produced attractive carton packs, which support the products at the point of sale. The aids mentioned will be available for the new products from 1 January.

GT – Who handles your distribution?
Jack Link’s owns the brand: I’m responsible for all marketing to consumers and Euro Food Brands do all direct communication with the UK trade and the distribution. Alex Moore is the Jack Links account manager, Nathan Baker is EFB’s Sales Director and Stephen Barlow is their Managing Director.

GT – What marketing support are you giving the UK launch of the new products?
We’re starting with trade PR now and consumer PR in January, then in-store promotions for the first half of 2009, plus poster advertising, Internet activity and radio advertising. We have an extensive marketing budget, covering the whole of the UK. We’re running a similar campaign in Germany, where we’re launching at the same time.

GT – Is there a Jack Link’s UK web site?
Jack Link’s EU web site is all-new, in 10 languages, and goes “live” in November at www.jacklinks.co.uk

GT – Given Jack Link’s ‘healthy outdoor’ appeal, are you involved in any UK sports sponsorships?
We sponsor many different sports – Rugby League, for the last six months; we’re sponsoring Alex and Luke of Grose-MacDonald Rowing Team who are rowing across the Atlantic to the USA; and we’re sponsoring a Swedish pro golfer, Maria Engstron. We’re looking at supporting possible marathons in Germany and Europe. If you’re running 26 miles, you need our product.

GT – What other new Jack Link’s products can we look forward to?
In the first quarter of 2009 we’re relaunching Beef Jerky and Beef Steak Bites with new pack designs in English and German, explaining the products and including pictures showing how they are made. Later in 2009 we’re launching a new product based on chicken meat, which is new to Europe and is very juicy for a dried snack.

GT – As the credit crunch bites, how do you expect it to affect meat snacks?
From experience the little treats people give themselves are the last things to go. People save on many things, but are still willing to pay when they’re hungry or thirsty. So we don’t see anything changing just yet.

GT – Finally, where do you see Jack Link’s going from here?
We’ll continue to meet the rapidly growing demand for alternatives to traditional snacks while offering retailers the chance to generate high margin returns from a premium range of meat snacks that offers consumers a new snacking option.

We’ll stay focused on healthy living and better quality. Jack Link’s has all the know-how and expertise you could possibly want in snacks. In the US we have 400 SKU’s: with so much to pick and choose from, we want to build Jack Link’s into a big European brand.

Jack Link’s UK Ltd
Tel: 01604 499 899

Euro Food Brands

Tel: 01604 821 200

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