Even at a gas station, a bag of jerky is easily going to run you $6-$7/bag. Grass-Fed jerky, Organic Jerky, Local Artisan-made jerky can be $8-$12/bag at your local farmer’s market. As a producer of jerky, it could be a bad move on our part to share the tricks of the trade. We feel it’s worth that risk. We’re all for a better informed consumer.
Easy answer is, it’s honestly expensive to make; very expensive in comparison to other snack-food products. Some of the bigger players in the business have figured out how to make it less expensive to produce with their farming practices, large factory environments and tricky marinading processes. While we applaud the innovation and increased efficiencies of modern day jerky manufacturing, we do not agree with their agricultural practices and other ingredient additives that have become the “norm” in the jerky business over the last 30-40 years. We’re out to change the public perception of Jerky and make it Healthy again.
Once used as high protein survival food by our ancestors hundreds of years ago is now perceived as an expensive, sodium loaded, heart-attack in a tacky bag that we purchase at our local convenience store. Let’s be even more honest – most jerky you find at the convenience store or large retailer (Wal-Mart, Target) doesn’t even look like real meat anymore. I think I just threw up in my mouth thinking about that.
The biggest issue in the cost of making Jerky is the “yield rate” of the meat. For example, 10 lbs of raw meat after cooking/dehydrating equals 3-4 lbs of jerky (if you’re lucky). It doesn’t take a math major to realize that losing 60-70% of the weight of the meat after cooking drastically drives up the cost of the meat. We haven’t even talked about the cost of a marinade ingredients, labor, packaging, general business overhead (rent, insurance, lab tests, inspections, utilities, marketing, equipment maintenance, etc.).
So what’s a jerky business to do to actually make a profit. The first answer is like all business models – cut costs (aka, lower quality meat – factory farms in the meat business). The second answer is to get a better “yield rate” on the meat. The primary way to get a better yield rate on jerky is to add salt and (more importantly) SUGAR. During the cooking process, SUGAR does not “cook out” like traditional spices and liquids do and ultimately help the meat maintain weight. It’s almost a 1:1 ratio sugar to beef. Pounds and Pounds of Sugar is hidden 99.9% of all Jerky you find in the marketplace today. Including Jerky labeled as “All Natural”. Jerky manufacturers have it down to a science and are getting over 50-60% yield rates just by adding loads of Sugar to their marinades. It’s a win-win. Sugar is highly addictive and temporarily satisfies our sweet tooth and it boosts the yield rates for making jerky.
Artisan Jerky makers who make jerky in small batches and put quality above all else buy meat from farmers who raise cattle naturally without the use of hormones and that are free to graze in grass pastures. True Artisans make Jerky the way it was intended to be made – like our ancestors a couple of generations ago did. They are passionate about their craft. They don’t add cheap ingredients to their marinades (loads of sugar and other fillersd) and thus have lower yield rates. They certainly don’t have the resources of Jack Links (the market leader with over 50% market share in the Jerky business) with big factory farms and the ability to purchase cheap ingredients in larger quantities (making them even cheaper).
Our goal is to make jerky healthy again and some of our colleagues in the jerky business share this sentiment. We encourage the consumer to look first at the ingredients on the bag. If sugar is one of the first 3 ingredients, reconsider your purchase. If there is an ingredient you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it. If the beef is not Grass-Fed, definitely reconsider the purchase. If it’s not Grass-Fed, it most likely came from a factory farm or somewhere the cattle are fed a diet of GMO corn and other items unnatural to their diet. Jerky is the perfect high protein, on-the-go snack when it’s made the right way.
Grass-Fed beef is isn’t “cheap”. Turning it into a high protein, healthy, on-the-go snack isn’t cheap either. Although we applaud the innovation of our large competitors, we strive to reverse the perception they have created of a great snack food. We ask you the consumer to continue to demand higher standards when it comes to the food options available for purchase. Don’t support businesses with poor agricultural practices and those that own factory farms and use toxic ingredients in their marinades. Your next trail deserves quality food – that includes your snack food too.