Meat of the Matter: Snack attack

A pair of innovative marketers may have found a way to address consumer concerns about health and the environment with a simple strategy: open package, consume product.

Now that the evidence keeps mounting in support of eating protein for optimal nutrition — despite the background noise of the latest Dietary Guidelines that still demonize red meat— there's a new product line poised to capitalize on that development.

Only the meat products developed by Austin, Texas-based EPIC Provisions aren't formulated for the center-of-the-plate, an entrée that would require preparation and cooking, two activities we no longer have time to manage, but for the one pastime at which Americans are world-class superstars: Snacking.

The two company co-founders, Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest, are not only tapping into a relatively new category — meat-based snack bars that can be retailed next to the more familiar grain-based and fruit-and-nut bars — they're doing so with a marketing spin that aligns nicely with the concerns so many consumers have about the wholesomeness of meat-eating and the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.

I'm not suggesting that all the activist rhetoric about how livestock are destroying the planet and how animal foods are inherently unhealthy any merit, but there's a principle in marketing, as well as politics, that cannot be ignored: perception is reality.

Should you wish to succeed in either arena, it's simply sound strategy to pay attention to what your end users believe, as opposed to trying to change their mindset.

The EPIC folks have done precisely that. Consider some of the provocative statements that support their branding:

"What is you could purchase a healthy snack that was more savory, tender, and flavor-forward than jerky. and doesn't include high carbohydrate and sugar content?"

"What is you could buy grass-fed, gluten-free, low-glycemic, high-protein snack foods that were actually healthy?" "What if the foods you eat could regenerate the land?"

I give the EPIC entrepreneurs a lot of credit for dialing into people's aspirations about wanting to eat healthy, natural foods — don't we all? — but also enjoy full-on, ready-to-eat convenience and at the same time, to be assured that what you're buying is protecting, not degrading, the environment.

That's the complete package: Healthy, convenient and responsible.

Future forward

EPIC certainly isn't the only marketer to launch a product line that promises consumers that the edibles they've chosen will solve theirs and the world's problems. Isn't that basically the marketing pitch for most products these days?

What's different about EPIC is that, deliberate or not, they're ahead of the curve in terms of how much of the meat and dairy we eat will be consumed going forward: As formulated foods that combine meat or milk ingredients with fruits, nuts, plant protein and in many cases, added nutrients, such as probiotics or herbal extracts and are handheld, and either ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat-and-eat.

The era of a big juicy steak, a hearty slab of meatloaf or a couple nicely browned pork chops as the typical family's mealtime menu is virtually over. Such "comfort foods," as they're now labeled, are relegated to weekends, holiday dining or the occasional evening out at some pricey restaurant.

That's not bad — sad, maybe — but simply a reflection of our modern lifestyles. The upside, of course, is that protein-rich foods are nutritious, and convenience foods should be healthy. With the advances of food science and nutritional research, why shouldn't even snack foods be "super foods" that not only satisfy hunger but support optimal health?

The answer is they should, and if you're not convinced that products lines such as the ones EPIC has developed aren't the future of food, consider that in less than two years, the company topped $20 million in sales, and more to the point, they've just been acquired by General Mills, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and that's an organization whose track records suggests they don't bother scooping up companies unless they're judged to have a high ceiling in terms of sales growth and profitability.

EPIC's advertising suggests that their products, such as Bison Bacon Cranberry or Coconut Carnivore Trail Mix, combine "delicious tasting and lightly smoked animal protein with savory nuts and dehydrated fruits for an amazing taste."

Can't personally testify to that, although they sure sound appetizing, but I would contend that EPIC's positioning addresses the two critical concerns that consumers care about the most: personal health and ecological well-being.

If you can address those issues by chomping down on a snack item, it's pretty powerful stuff. ‚ñ°

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator