How to start a beef jerky business

Starting a beef jerky business can be as easy as preparing it in your kitchen and selling it at a local farmers market. But it can also be difficult to find success and make a living from it.

Here are some tips to help you see more clearly what to expect…

1. Government Inspection – By law, if you manufacture beef jerky for sale, your production facility must be inspected by the state or federal government. If you plan to sell your jerky in the same state it was produced, you only need a state inspection. If you plan to sell to consumers in other states, you need a federal inspection.

Getting inspected isn’t so much the biggest challenge as keeping the inspection. A state or federal inspector will visit your facility every day.

However, many small “mom and pop” run beef jerky businesses don’t bother to get an inspection and never seem to have a problem. They make all their jerky at home, in their kitchen, and sell it wherever they can. State and federal government inspectors don’t bother looking for violators, the problem only seems to arise when consumers get sick and file complaints.

2. Private Labeling – To circumvent state and federal inspection requirements, most small businesses contract with an approved and inspected meat processing facility to make them jerky. The facility can make jerky to your recipe or use your own homemade recipe. They can even source beef specifically for their requirements, or use their own. The facility will then package the jerky with its label.

The problem that most entrepreneurs find when they hire a local is that the cecina never comes out with the same flavor and consistency as when they made it themselves in their own kitchen. The answer is to try several facilities and find one that produces something closest to what you’re looking for.

Do a Google search for the words “USDA Establishment Number” to find a list of federally inspected meat processing facilities.

3. Condoms or not? – Most consumers tend to stay away from foods that contain preservatives, artificial flavors and fillers. Sodium nitrite is a common preservative in beef jerky and there have been studies suggesting it causes cancer, although other studies question this.

The problem for manufacturers and retailers is that beef jerky must be able to stay on store shelves for several months to retain its freshness. For this, it has to contain condoms. 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, new beef jerky company, if you want to avoid condoms, is to find markets where long shelf life isn’t an issue. It is common to sell jerky at farmers’ markets, street fairs, and trade shows. Selling jerky online from a website is very popular. Some manufacturers have agreements with smaller stores to come in once a week to buy old stock and replace it with new.

4. Distributors: The jerky brands you see in convenience stores and grocery stores were placed there by distributor 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 every national retail outlet. You can’t just talk to a national retail chain and have them stock your jerky, you have to go to a distributor. And the way things are in the 21st century, retailers aren’t willing to talk to small, emerging brands.

Instead, you can talk to smaller niche distributors and/or small non-chain supermarkets. Look for those that focus on natural foods. Small independent health food stores in your area are willing to buy jerky from local growers because of their desire to stock “locally sourced and grown” foods, as long as they don’t contain preservatives.

To get your brand noticed by larger distributors, you need to develop recognition of that brand across the country. That means lots of social media, lots of sponsorships, being mentioned on TV and radio, etc.

5. Don’t partner up – Starting a beef jerky business from scratch is a lot of work. It takes years of dedication just to build a loyal customer base, and even then you’ll find that your life pretty much revolves around your business. Your business will become your life.

If you have a partner, as well as a spouse, you will often find that your partner becomes your enemy. Even if it’s your brother, your best friend or your mother. You will always find that your partner is not doing your job or is telling you how to do your job. It will seem that your partner is not working hard enough, but you still get half of the profit. You may find that your partner is working harder than you and feel guilty for not doing your part.

If you need a business partner, talk to your spouse and ask them to be involved in starting a beef jerky business. If you can’t find a partner and you think you need one, it may not be the right time to start. Otherwise, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and get ready to do it all yourself.

The rewards are greater that way.

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