Monday, September 22, 2008

Starting a Beef Jerky Business - Introduction

I just got off the phone with a guy named Jeff Horne who lives in Alabama. He's been making his own beef jerky for about 10 years, and his friends have loved his jerky so much they've been urging him to turn it into a business.

It's the same story I see across so many small jerky businesses. A guy is frustrated with the factory-flavored jerky found in so many stores. The guy then decides to make jerky himself. His friends love it a lot. He starts a business, and makes a lot of money.

So last week, this guy Jeff sent me some samples of his jerky, along with a letter describing the kind of jerky he likes and what he hopes to create. He's currently in the process of researching the jerky business and figuring out where and how he'd like to fit in.

I urged him to keep in touch with me, and tell me how things are going with the business, because I'd like to post a series of articles about his beef jerky startup, and maybe help other folks out there learn about how to get started. Perhaps some of you manufacturers out there would care to post comments on these articles as well.

Pictured is his jerky...


I found it with a very strong soy sauce flavor. It's a good thing it has a strong flavor, first because I like a jerky that puts out a lot of flavor off the surface, and this does that. Second, I like a jerky that offers plenty of flavor that lasts throughout the chew, and this does that also.

This is, however, rather salty, and Jeff admitted that, and went on to say that he's still in the experimental phase of finding the right flavor and create a process to ensure a consistent flavor. I didn't necessarily find my mouth getting a salt scorching from this jerky, though I imagine if I continued to eat more and more I probably would.

There is also some good meat flavor in this, but I also found the strong soy sauce and salt flavor too overpowering. That is, I couldn't get enough of the natural meat flavors because the soy sauce and salt crowded it out.

Natural meat flavors is something that will really score high with me, if it can present a great meat taste. Too much of the seasoning or marinade will make it difficult for me to taste the meat. However, I could still assign a best rating to a jerky that's has little meat flavor, just as long as it has a great tasting marinade and seasoning. But for me, great tasting meat will always beat out great tasting marinade and seasonings.

And in terms of meat consistency, these are thick cuts of whole meat. It's a dry jerky, but one that still has good flexibility to it, and tears with some ease if torn with the grain. There are some places on these pieces that are actually soft to a degree. The pieces tear off and chew like a real steak, perhaps similar to the outer strip of a rib eye.

Jeff says that he hangs his jerky during the dehydration, rather than laying them on racks. He uses dry air, as opposed to heated air, the old fashioned way.

I told him it has a good taste, and that I'd rate this initially as "good", though I could easily give this a best rating. I think the heavy salt flavor could be a problem, though he also said that this particular batch came out saltier than normal. I also think the strong soy sauce flavor masks over much of the natural meat flavors.

I also told him that there is a degree of "monotony" with this jerky, that is, it doesn't offer enough flavor complexity to keep the brain entertained. I like to suck on a piece of jerky, soften it up in my mouth, and then chew on it slightly to get the juices out. But all I taste is salty soy sauce. I'd like it better to offer some extra garlic taste, or ginger taste. Or maybe some more black pepper. Something to give it more of an interesting taste.

We also talked about brand names. What I suggested is to find a really unique name, one that plants itself in your brain easily, and is hard to forget. I brought up examples like "Alien Fresh Jerky" and "Fatman's Beef Jerky". Not only do those two names lend themselves to being remembered, but they also present a theme. Having a name that's easily remembered will help distributors, retailers, and customers build up a familiarity, and ultimately a trust.

So, I hope to hear from him regularly. If I do, I'll fill you in on how he's doing.

42 comments:

  1. Hey Steve, what about House of Jerky? Isn't that easily remembered too? :) I think we have the perfect name. I always keep up with your blog, Steve. It's interesting. Hope your new jerky guy does well with his business, but look at how many are in the jerky biz! You have made that quite clear. Do you need anymore of our product in between what you're tasting?? Just let me know. :)

    Janie

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  2. Hi Steve, I have been experimenting on smoked steak strips for years. My friends keep telling me to market it. I can't keep up with the demand. I am retiring soon and have thought about building an outdoor kitchen. I have a smoke house and my wife cans homemade salsa. Do you have any advice for us?
    Thanks Dale

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  3. Hey Dale, I don't run a beef jerky manufacturing business so I can't speak from experience. But if you can't keep up with demand, and if you're serious about creating a business, then contract with a meat processing facility. They'll take your recipe, package it for you, and slap your label on it. The USDA has a directory of registered, and inspected, facilities...

    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/regulations/Meat_Poultry_Egg_Inspection_Directory/index.asp

    Otherwise, if you're going to manufacture this stuff yourself and sell it to the public, you'll have to become a USDA inspected facility, and will have to allow a federal inspector visit you regularly.

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  4. Hi Steve. My name is Spencer and I am in the same boat as Jeff in that I am contemplating starting my own jerky business as well. I was wondering if I could send you some samples to try so you can give me some feedback. I have been making jerky for friends and family for almost 20 years now.

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  5. Hi Steve my is Ron Hansen my girlfriend and I have been making and selling the best jerky you will ever have. Would love to send you some samples,we have three flavors,regular,spicy& DAM!!! We are in the process of making it into a business but start up cash is hard to come by.We plan on selling online as well as retail store front, also plan on doing dried fruits and granola.Thanks Ron Wicked good jerky co.

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  6. I'm considering starting a jerky business & marketing via outdoor trade shows, flea markets ect. I have a good recipe & can sell it at less than 1/2 the regular retail price that stores charge. Anyplace I can find some info on how to market my jerky? billyk

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  7. I make jerky and I have so many people who tell me that I MUST start selling it. The only problem is...I looked into it and there is a bunch of red tape (ie: Health Department requirements that say I have to have a commercially permitted work space, etc...) so I've never got serious about starting it up. I have many flavors and they don't scream soy sauce. Any advice?

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  8. Hi Steve, WOW! I was very suprised to see so many others with the same story as myself. I have been asked by many if they could sell my jerky in their establishment. I have not decided yet because I need to know the legalities of it. Any information would be great. I don't really know where to begin. I am in southern Cali as well, if you are interested in some samples please let me know, I would be happy to send you some. Your input would be awesome! Doreen

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  9. False Positives ?? What does that mean well family and friends will tell you oh ya it's great you should sell it and really they didn't want to hurt your feelings and say the jerky taste like Shit! So you better make dam sure that your product stands up. So get your jerky reviewed by strangers as opposed family and friends for an honest review. It's not an easy business to just get started you need equipment a USDA facility and most of all the most important Customers!! so after putting all things in place it not a business you just throw together thinking your going to make a lot of money! Labor,Rent or Lease,Advertising,Products/Material - Meat,Spices,Marinade,and meeting Demand. This is a very labor intensive business so think twice about it before attempting. A little more insight Not All Jerky people will like your product so there is disappointment and what comes next. What hell did I get my self into and all the money I spent??

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  10. I owned and operated a USDA beef jerky plant for 10 years before selling out to my largest dist. at the time I sold we were smoking 3000lbs of product daily.The USDA regs dealing with heat treated shelf stable meats will certainly take the wind out of your sails.Do your homework well and talk to yhe USDA BEFORE YOU begin anything other than dreaming!!!!

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  11. I would like to share a little bit about this post and comments. I started Jerk Nation beef jerky over a year ago. I brought on 2 partners and I had the same story as everyone else. Everyone thought I had the best beef jerky on the planet that tried it. So I decided to make it a business. After about 6 months of research, I couldnt believe eveything that had to be done. We did an expense report and figured it would be between $8 to $10k. Boy was I wrong!! After a year of planning and setbacks, we finally launched a few weeks ago and so far we are up to $25,000. These costs include artwork for label, logo, incorporating, printing plates, bags, spices, actual product, samples, website, trademarking, and numerous other miscellaneous unforseen expenses. I have been through 2 manufacturers, the third was a charm, 2 spice companies, setback after setback. Keep in mind, this money DOES NOT include any marketing dollars. When I started, I knew there are THOUSANDS of people out there just like us who make their own jerky and everyone says theirs is the best so I had to do something different than everyone else. Thats why I invented the first shake n season interactive jerky. Nobody on the planet was doing it. That is the whole point of this post. It is simply not enough to just have friends and family to tell you that you have the best beef jerky. Everyone says that. If you tella potential distributor that your beef jerky is the best, they wont even respond to you. If you truly want to make it a business, you must come up with something different than just another beef jerky out on the VERY crowded beef jerky market. I dont mean for this to burst anyones bubble, but I am just talking from experience and all that I went through to get to this point. If you have a dream, follow it!!! I did, and it will be quite awhile before I can work on my jerky business full time. I work over 50 hrs a week at my regular job, then put in about 25 hrs a week on the jerky business. It takes alot of dedication and you will get frustrated, dissapointed, etc.. But when the time comes for me to quit my day job (hopefully by years end!) The rewards far outweigh the risks for me! I wish everyone good luck with their venture, you will need it!!!

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  12. I was buying jerky from a guy who came into a local club on Fridays selling it. I bought a lot from him, but his was a little too salty. I bought a 2 pound roast in December 09 after Christmas and made my first batch. I am now going through 100 pounds of jerky meat per week (pre dried) and just raised my order to 150 lbs. weekly. I am selling 6 ounce bags for $10 each, and doubling my money. I have strangers calling me up to order. I put a homemade label on it with my phone number and email. I have a unique name that is real catchy. I won't list it here until I get it registered. I have already purchased the domain name for the future. I am making Mild...Spicy...and Hot. Your site is very helpful in my quest to expand my business. Yes it is a lot of work, but the extra $$$ is well worth it. Thanks......Shannon in Arkansas

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  13. That's cool Shannon, glad this site was able to help.

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  14. My husband and I have been making beef jerky for several months now, and feel we have a good enough products to go commercial. As we keep reading more into this we come across more steps that we were never aware of before. I read somewhere that the meat has to be quickly cooked to an internal temp of 160 deg, before the dehydrating process. Can anyone tell me if this is true, and what they have to do to achieve this, if it's a requirement???

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  15. USDA requires that the meat reach heat & humidity combinations with a sealed oven. Look up Appendix A in USDA guidelines. If jerky isn't cooked with heat and humidity it possibly could still harbor and grow bacteria,e-coli. A lot of these small jerky makers are not USDA inspected and don't understand the importance of reaching heat and humidity requirements to assure the buying public that their. product is safe

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  16. I own and operate an USDA inspected plant and in my opinion it is not worth doing. you will sink thousands of dollars into the project to get it up to code. I have nearly one hundred thousand dollars invested and I am still the smallest processing plant in Michigan. The USDA has guidelines for equipment used as well as the building the product is made in. There are also set hours you have to work or you have to pay nearly 75 dollars an hour overtime to the inspector. Im just warning you that to do it right is a lot more work than most people realize. The paperwork borders on the extreme. I have over 50 hours into my HACCP plan and SOP's. My plant only produces about 400-800 lbs a week just to give you and example. very small. I wish i could go back two years and just stay with retail. I regret opening this business every day. It is excessive work for very little return.

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    1. Do you have any rentable commercial kitchen space or production capability.

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  17. Here's my question...If I have strickly a retail store, and just sell the jerky their do I have to go through the whole USDA stuff?

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  18. Are you making it legally under state or county inspection? If so you can retail it, but you can't sell it over state lines.

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  19. Hi Steve,

    I am also trying to start my own jerky business and would appreciate any information that you may have; requirements and registration etc. I also would like to send you a sample

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  20. Maria, I'm not a beef jerky manufacturer or marketer, so I'm not really qualified to answer your question. But there are many beef jerky manufacturers and marketers that follow this blog, so maybe one of them will shout out.

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  21. This all seems a little contradictory. If I wanted to buy meat from a reputal source and make jerky to sell at local farmers markets what more do I need besides; Commercial facility with county health permit, business license, and general liability insurance?

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  22. Are there any American beef jerky companies who sell their product strictly to foreign retailers or consumers? I wonder how difficult it is to have an approved product under another countries guidelines. Are there standarized business procedures for exporting beef jerky to another nation?

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  23. I have been making beef jerky for years and for the last 8 months I have been selling it in a flea market and farmers market because I got laid off my regular job and needed some extra money. Mind you i make all product in my home kitchen. At this point I was getting the name out and selling roughly 240 lb (not dried) beef per month. So last week I am doing my thing and guess who shows up to my booth...investigators from the usda saying my operation is illegal and I was in violation of the safety meat inspection act and i was not legally making it because i didnt have an inspected facility. I had at the time roughly 6 lbs of dried product bagged. They made me open every bag and put dirt on all of the product and discard it in the garbage! Now, I had called the usda in atlanta and talked to an inspecter told him my operation and the environment I was selling in. He basically stated that as long as I sell directly to the consumer and not wholesale that there was nothing wrong with the way I was selling. So now I am confused as hell, don't know what right or what's wrong and I think its b.s. cause I am just a little guy trying to make a few extra dollars for gas and spending. Now the government wants to penalize the little guy...so for whoever is reading this and knows any info regarding laws and regulations please let me know. Any info would help greatly. I was also looking to build a seperate kitchen in another part of my home specifically to make and produce beef jerky cause I read that this was a possibility. Is this a way to get beyond having an inspected facility? As long as I don't sell over state lines or wholesale?

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  24. Hi!. I have a beef jerky recipe that is rock solid and can easily be played with to fit anyone's unique taste buds! Here is the problem! I have no idea on how to make a successful business out of it? I don't know how to get a nutrition label and the whole nine yards. Maybe You could help me? I can send you a taste of 3 of my custom beef jerky flavors? How do i got about doing that ?

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  25. EVAN, IM GOING THRU THE EXACT SAME THING..ACTUALLY SOUNDS IDENTICAL...THE DIFF FROM LOCAL DHEC AND STATE IS FAR TO WIDE...IM WORKING ON THAT PROBLEM NOW...I HAVE BEEN SELLING JERKY FOR YRS AT MY LOCAL FLEA MARKET, TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY, AND NOW, ALL OF A SUDDEN STATE REGULATIONS PROHIBIT ME... EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING!!! I HAVE CLOSE TO 30 FLAVORS AND A HUGE FAN BASE THAT DEMANDS MY PRODUCT DAILY..

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  26. Same old story. We are going through the exact same thing. Every single instituation gives me a different answer. To sell in a farmers market and online we were told the only thing you need is a 20c license and for that, the only thing needed was a commercial kitchen, you simply can't make it at home. Fine. When I called to make an appointment for the 20c inspection, the supervisor, note, SUPERVISOR, told me that we do NOT need a 20c license, that is only if we sell it in a retail store. The 20c people said all we need is to have the health departement inspect our kitchen/equipment. The Department of Agriculture strongly disagrees with this, says we absolutely NEED a 20c license, doesn't matter if we sell it retail or not. Called the 20c people back, absolutely not, they won't even inspect us, we don't sell retail. Called the Department of Agriculture back, you must have a 20c license. I've called the FDA, the USDA, county, state, town, health, every single department, and not ONE person, and I've spoken to all supervisors, not ONE person can give me a straight answer when it comes to selling exclusively online and in farmers markets. Selling retail is an entirely different story, those lines are very clear. Is there anyone out there in this business that REALLY knows what is needed to sell online and in farmers markets? The only thing I know to be true is that you MUST make the jerky in a USDA inspected facility if you sell retail. If NOT selling retail, the rules are totally different, but nobody seems to know what exactlyi those rules are.......

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  27. @Melissa I'm from Switzerland, so no idea of your laws. Sucks that you're having so much trouble getting started. But the easiest solution, given all the hassle you're going through, is to ask people who are doing what you want to do. Then ask them to put you in contact with the people who set things up for them. I don't understand why you don't just go to the Farmer's Market and talk to some of them... :-)
    Good luck, hope you figure it out.
    Colin from Switzerland

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  28. Oh, and once you have a definitive answer, just 'fake' (not really) it - if the Farmer's Market people told you that you need a 20c, then when you call the 20c people just tell them you're doing retail so they'll come for the freakin' inspection! lol (disclaimer) Of course, don't do anything illegal or that could be held against you.
    Ciao

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  29. Gosh, story after story after story...sounds just like my beef jerky saga...I live in the DC area, and have been bootlegging jerky for some time, now. It seems like an impossible task to get my jerky out of the kitchen, but alas, it's possible.
    I'm planning a trip to California in a few weeks to check out Reily's Beef Jerky facility to see how they make the magic. It's a small little outfit, but they make WONDERFUL jerky. My friends think I'm crazy (or awesome) for flying across the country to see Reily's 1500 square foot operation. We'll see what happens.

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  30. Hi Nicholas -- I'm a jerky fanatic --how did your trip to CA work out and what resulted?
    Dennis.

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  31. Hey Nicholas --How was the trip to CA and what did you find out? I'm a Jerky Fanatic that enjoys good jerky. Your thoughts on Reily's and ability for you to form your own company?
    Thanks.
    Swede.

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    1. hey swede! the trip went well, but there's still so many unanswered questions. production and equipment cost are the biggest challenges, but i remain optimistic. I'm currently looking into contracting the process out to another company.

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    2. thanks for your interest swede...the trip went well, but i realize that start up costs, and health inspectors will be a big challenge, leading me to think that i need to contract out my recipe to a production facility that is already certified.

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  32. Wow, all the war stories on the trials and tribulations of a start up beef jerky business are incredible. It sounds like the right hand does not know what the left hand should be doing when it comes to license requirements.

    I currently sub for a guy that makes a great beef jerky. He has been doing it for a while, it has a unique flavor and just a unique a following. The flavor lasts till the last bit has melted in your mouth. My grand kids love it and are always looking in my cupboards for more, it is gone in 60 seconds. Maybe its the flavor, maybe its the texture, I just know it is better than anything I have ever had. I am currently helping him with a business plan. Hoping to see something in these web pages real soon. Good luck everyone, connections always help.

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  33. Wow, all the war stories on the trials and tribulations of starting a beef jerky business. They are incredible. Just by looking at this web site there is so much competition. But competition keeps us on our toes.

    I have a friend that makes a unique beef jerky. Every mouth watering chew has flavor until the last little bit has melted in your mouth, with just a little bit of a kick left over for the memory. My grand kids love it, every time they come they look for it in the cabinets and it is gone in 60 seconds. That and a glass of Pepsi to whet the whistle and they are good to go. I am helping him with the business plan, hopefully I'll see something on this web site or others in the near future about his "Steak".

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  34. I have talked with a local health inspector in my area and he has said that if you sell it local then you deal with your local inspectors. If you choose to sell it outside state the it becomes federal (say the internet). I am thinking about starting one as well and curious about the trial and tribultions it take to start with all regulations in compliance so I am not Black Marketing my product. Like to hear what others have come across!

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  35. I have talked with a local health inspector in my area and he has said that if you sell it local then you deal with your local inspectors. If you choose to sell it outside state the it becomes federal (say the internet). I am thinking about starting one as well and curious about the trial and tribultions it take to start with all regulations in compliance so I am not Black Marketing my product. Like to hear what others have come across!

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  36. Just remember to take note of who you speak with when someone tells you on the state and local level that you dont need certain things, position, name and contact information. keep that with you incase of a different inspector trys to tell you something different, let them fight it out

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  37. Hello
    I m from Bulgaria for several years I make trips around the world and I did have the opportunity to try beef Jarkey and and I can say that I m in love with . I wos looking I ewer retail store to buy but no track for such product sow I m thinking to start my business and I will be the only one in the country do you do you think I will have success with it ? I know how to make the product and all my family's and friends love the beef jerky but to open a facility they think I m crazy what will be your opinion about this .

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  38. I've been making my own beef jerky for around 20 years. I have refined the process and changed it several times and now use exact measurements for marinade and the amount of meat I allow in a batch of marinade. The result is a consistent product that tastes the same batch after batch.

    Not long ago, as seems to be the case with many here, my friends began asking me to make it and sell it. In the past month I've gone through about 90# of meat (raw weight) and have a list of people waiting for more. I can't say this will ever actually be a full-time business for me but for now I'm making a few hundred dollars a month without much effort and can't keep any in "stock" for more than 2 or 3 days.

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  39. Wondering if DEEP-FIRED beef jerky needed to meet the USDA code for heat and humidity requirements or not. I'm making my very own Thai-style beef jerky for a couple years and friends love my recipe and I'm thinking about getting more serious about making a business locally. Do I need to have the product done in a USDA facility? And what else do I need to know?

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