Starting a beef jerky business can be as easy as making jerky in your kitchen and selling it at a local farmers market. But it also can be tough to find success and earn a good living at it.
Here are some tips to help you see more clearly what to expect…
1. Government Inspection – By law, if you make beef jerky for the purpose of selling it, your production facility must be state or federally inspected. If you plan to sell your jerky in the same state as it was produced, you only need state inspection. If you plan to sell to consumers in other states, you need federal inspection.
Getting inspected is not so much the bigger challenge, as it is maintaining inspection. A state or federal inspector is going to visit your facility everyday.
However, many small “mom and pop” run beef jerky businesses don’t bother getting inspection, and seem to never run into any trouble. They make all their jerky at home, in their kitchen, and sell it wherever they can. Both state and federal government inspectors don’t bother looking for violators, the issue only seems to come up when consumers get sick and file complaints.
2. Private Labeling – To get around the state and federal inspection requirements, most small businesses hire an inspected and approved meat processing facility to make jerky for them. The facility can make jerky based on your recipe or use their own house recipe. They can even source beef specifically to your requirements, or use their own. The facility will then package the jerky with your label on it.
The problem that most entrepreneurs find when they hire a facility is that the jerky never comes out with the same flavor and consistency as it did when they made it themselves in their own kitchen. The answer is to try several facilities and find one that will produce something closest to what you’re looking for.
Do a Google search on the words, “USDA Establishment Number” to find a list of federally inspected meat processing facilities.
3. Preservatives or No? – Most consumers tend to stay away from foods containing preservatives, artificial flavors, and fillers. Sodium nitrite is a common preservative in beef jerky, and there have been studies suggesting that it causes cancer, though there have been other studies disputing it.
The problem for manufacturers and retailers is that beef jerky must be able to sit on store shelves for several months to retain freshness. To do this, is has to contain preservatives. Most distributors and retailers won’t even consider stocking a jerky that can’t guarantee freshness for more than a few weeks.
So, the trick for a small, upstart beef jerky company, if they want to avoid preservatives, is to find markets where long shelf life is not an issue. Selling jerky at farmers markets, street fairs, and trade shows is common. Selling jerky online from a website is very popular. Some manufacturers have arrangements with smaller stores to come in once a week to buy back old stock and replace with fresh.
4. Distributors – The jerky brands you see in convenience stores and grocery stores were placed there by distribution companies. Names like Core Mark, Sysco, and US Foods represent the largest distributors in the United States and are responsible for filling the store shelves of all the national retail outlets. You can’t just talk to a national retail chain and get them to stock your jerky, you have to go through a distributor. And the way things are in the 21st Century, distributors are unwilling to talk to small, upstart brands.
You can instead talk to smaller, niche distributors, and/or small non-chain grocers. Look for those that focus on natural foods. Small independent health food stores in your area are willing to buy jerky from local producers because of their desire to stock “locally grown and sourced” foods, provided it doesn’t contain preservatives.
To get the larger distributors to take notice of your brand, you have to build up the name recognition of that brand across the country. That means a lot of social media, a lot of sponsorships, getting mentioned on television and radio, etc.
5. Don’t Partner – Starting a beef jerky business from the ground up is a lot of hard work. It takes years of dedication just to build up a loyal customer base, and even then you’ll find that your life all but revolves around your business. Your business is going to become your life.
If you have a partner, other than a spouse, often times you’ll find your partner becomes your enemy. Even if it’s your brother, your best friend, or your mother. You’ll always find that your partner is not doing their job, or is telling you how to do your job. It’ll seem like your partner is not working hard enough, but is still getting half of the profits. You might find that your partner is working harder than you, and you may feel guilty about not doing your part.
If you need a business partner, talk to your spouse, and have him or her get on board with starting a beef jerky business. If you can’t find a partner, and you believe you need one, then maybe it’s not the right time to start. Otherwise, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and be prepared to do it all yourself.
The rewards are greater that way.