Starting a Jerky Business

There are easily over 500 jerky brands in the world, probably in North America alone. In other words, the competition is fierce and crowded. It is no simple task starting a jerky business.

Based on our interactions with various small jerky makers just starting out, be prepared for long days. Jerky making is just one aspect of the jerky business. Successful jerky makers tend to work their heart out, always striving to improve and grow.

MAKING JERKY

Jerky as a Side Business

For people wanting to make beef jerky as a side business, and still retain a full time job, you will quite likely burn yourself out after a while. If you take an extended break, and run out of stock, your loyal customers are likely to become very upset, and start looking elsewhere.

Government Regulations

Jerky making rules and regulations can vary from state to state, province to province, country to country. There could well be over 100 rules that you have to follow to meet minimum standards, which are always evolving. There are too many regulations to list, so do your homework in the area that you plan to make your jerky.

Government Inspection

Depending on where the jerky is sold, you need to submit it to the government for further processing. This is why on most jerky bags you will see some sort of stamp claiming it was inspected by the Department of Agriculture.

JERKY EQUIPMENT

Dehydrator

Depending on where you make the jerky, to sell jerky commercially you need a commercial dehydrator that is National Safety Foundation (NSF) certified. A commercial dehydrator can easily cost over $10,000. Research the laws in your area.

To experiment with making jerky, our 9 tray Excalibur dehydrator has been reliable for over 10 years now. Upgrade to the stainless steel trays, and we also upgraded to the heavy duty Excalibur dehydrator model. Excalibur sells commercial dehydrators also.

Excalibur Dehydrators

Used Dehydrator

Buying a used dehydrator can save you a lot of money. The fact is jerky companies go out of business, where you can find real bargains, with dehydrators costing 1/2, 1/4, or less the original price. Spend time searching for classified ads and auctions geared towards the food industry.

Food Slicer

You can find a basic commercial food slicer starting around $500, but it can be quite a bit higher in price depending on the size, and brand. Again, look for a used slicer, where there are deals to be found in classified ads and auctions.

JERKY BAGS

Plastic Bags

Based on experience. buying bags for jerky is cheap in comparison to buying labels. 2,000 resealable bags averages out to about 5 cents per bag. Ordering 2,000 plain colored labels, with just the name of the flavor, is 30 cents per label. Buying your bags and labels in larger quantities can drive the price down considerably.

Labels

To make custom labels, a label maker will develop what they call a template. The initial cost to create a template can easily be $5,000, $10,000 or more. Assuming you want to start your business with four different flavors that could cost you $20,000 in label costs alone. The decision to create a new label template can be a big leap financially.

Oxygen Absorbers

While not mandatory, it is helpful to use oxygen absorbers. They are quite powerful if used properly, and relatively inexpensive. Typically, oxygen absorbers come in bags with a minimum of 500. Once opening the bag you had better use the oxygen absorbers within days, or they will be rendered useless if exposed to air for any extended period of time, no matter how hard you to try keep them sealed from air.

CLEANING

Do not underestimate the costs of cleaning your equipment and jerky making area. You definitely want to avoid your jerky from being in contact with Salmonella or E. coli. If one of your customers got sick from eating your jerky you could face a big lawsuit, where multiple lawsuits could easily bankrupt you. One owner of a meat store mentioned that they factor 25% of their costs to cleaning alone.

DISTRIBUTION

This is the most challenging aspect of opening up a new jerky business. Sure you may have great tasting jerky, but figuring out where to sell your jerky is no easy task. It is quite difficult to get any major chain store to sell your jerky. Many of the small jerky makers sell their product at Farmer’s Markets.

As an example, one jerky owner had the 4th highest jerky sales in his state, but the disparity from 1st place to 4th place was quite large. He claimed that they needed to sell over 3,000 pounds of jerky a month to make the business worthwhile, which is a daunting task.

Web Site

In this day and age, all jerky makers should have a web site, where customers can order your jerky online. Otherwise, all of your jerky sales will be regional, rather than nationally, or internationally.

While not cheap, the most popular eCommerce platform out there for jerky makers is Shopify. Ensure that your web site is popular with the major search engines, using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Getting on social media is an absolute must. Consider it to be free advertising. The sooner the better, where you want to grow your followers.

As a tip, do not mix business and personal on social media. Get a separate social media account for personal affairs. There is a fine line here, where you want to remain a professional looking business.

Instagram

www.instagram.com – People just seem to love pictures of food, and jerky is no exception. Instagram has the most user activity of all the jerky centric social media sites.

Twitter

www.twitter.com – Any business should be on Twitter, not just jerky makers. Twitter gives you a good pulse on the jerky and other industries.

Facebook

www.facebook.com – It is important to be on Facebook, currently the largest social media web site in the world. Facebook can be very good, but it’s arguably too large.

RAISING FUNDS

The most common way on raising funds to start a jerky company is using Kickstarter. Another alternative is Go Fund Me. For example, let’s say you need $15,000. You set an exact target date to achieve $15,000 from any potential backers. You need to reach the entire $15,000 on the date that you committed. If you miss the deadline, you get nothing, and the campaign ends.

Generally, you would make a short video that sells your jerky above the rest. If you succeed, in repayment to the financial backers, you could offer some jerky in exchange as compensation at a later date.

JERKY FLAVOR NAME

We are sticklers here at Jerky Ingredients in that the flavor name should match the actual flavor. Many jerky makers in our jerky reviews have lost one taste rating only because the flavor name does match the actual flavor itself, regardless of how good the taste is.

While a pure technicality, this taste rating deduction can be avoided by appropriately naming your jerky flavor. If you name your jerky flavor Hot, then have a reasonable amount of heat. Otherwise, just name the flavor Spicy. If you name your jerky flavor Peppered, have a noticeable level of black pepper, a garlic flavor should have a noticeable garlic taste present, etc. Think of it as somebody eating jerky blindfolded, and being asked to guess the flavor name.

We here at Jerky Ingredients have reviewed over 350 unique jerky flavor names, broken down into around 50 jerky flavor categories. Jerky makers are encouraged to add a flavor description for each flavor sold on their jerky maker web sites, which is much appreciated, where the flavor description factors into the taste rating.

JERKY REVIEWS

Submitting jerky for review can be a great way to get free advertising, apart from the cost of shipping, and the jerky itself. We see submitted jerky as a win-win situation. We get new jerky to review, and the jerky maker gets advertising and exposure, including on social media.

In the last five years or so, we see more and more of these jerky subscription clubs. A customer will sign up and pay a monthly fee for a box of jerky, where the jerky brands can vary from month to month. What we have noticed is that we will favorably review a jerky brand, and a few months later we will see the jerky brand in one or more of these monthly subscription boxes. Do not underestimate the publicity and possibilities garnered from a professional jerky review.

True, we may not favor the flavor, and rate the taste low, but that is highly unlikely. In this day and age, most craft jerky makers have good to excellent jerky flavors. Contact us at jerkyingredients@gmail.com for further details. As usual, we provide jerky makers a draft copy of each review before they are published. Fair, honest, and thorough are the most the common descriptions given to us in our jerky reviews.

Join the Conversation

30 Comments

  1. I love that you created this article. Starting a beef jerky manufacturing business is not easy and costs money. Many companies start out by creating their own recipe and then move on to using a co-packer who handles the manufacturing. This becomes even more expensive but is definitely needed if your jerky brand begins to grow.
    If you have a mind for business and a will to win, then the jerky business may be for you!

    1. Thanks John. This starting a jerky business page was one of the first pages that I started writing in 2013. Kind of as a filler when we were just starting, something to add jerky content on the web site. Now it’s the most visited page on this web site, after multiple revisions. A kind thank you to all of the great advice given in the comments section.

  2. The article straight forward, and simple. It has given great ideas on how to set up my own small business on jerk you beef making.

  3. Interesting. But my consideration was for a small unit catering to a very sharply focused limited market say 500 or 1,000 lbs per month what are the government regulations to be met? Who do we go to and who do we apply to and how difficult or easy it is. About Making and Marketing the product is absolutely no problem for me being a Management, Marketing, Communications and a PR guy career all my life.
    Can somebody throw light on govt. permissions and regulations please? And what about insurance if any ideas please?

    1. hi how did you go finding out the regulations I’m starting a small jerky business in Australia and have no idea where to start any help would be great

      1. Just to give an update here. I got Jen in touch with the very talented owner of Mad Cow Jerky, based out of Victoria, Australia. This one woman show jerky brand managed to talk Jen out of starting a new jerky company. Recently introduced food regulations proved to be too many restrictions.

  4. I don’t know, sounds like a daunting task. All my friends have been urging me to sta Rd t a jerkey business but they don’t realize the hoops you have to jump through, still stuck need more info

    1. Fat Yankee Jerky I help People Start their Own Business, Including Commercial Ktichen standards. HACCP Plan Flow Chart & Declaration of Ingredients. Not as hard as it seems to be. Just have to go step by step.

      Great Article

  5. I have started a side gig as a hobby and I have people begging me for my jerky. I have all the commercial tools for big amounts. And have no problem selling 20 lbs a week at 30 bucks a lb. just intemadated by start up and regulations not sure if I should pursue this ideas or keep my day job

    1. hi I’m starting a small jerky business in Australia and would love to know how you went I have no ide where to start

      1. I don’t know how his business is going because I have others begging me to start up. I’ve been making it for fun because I’m tired of spending big money for little packages of meat.

        If you’re wanting to start up just for yourself, you still need to buy the spice mix and cures, dehydrators, bag sealing systems, meat slicer, meat guns if you’re going to do beef sticks, etc.

        I learned the hard way about losing over $50 of meat due to air and moisture. That’s why I bought a vacuum system to bag up my product. Also gotta have a scale to know how much of the item you’re going to bag at one time. Don’t forget the price of to replace items once it breaks.

      2. Just to give an update here. I got Jen in touch with the very talented owner of Mad Cow Jerky, based out of Victoria, Australia. This one woman show jerky brand managed to talk Jen out of starting a new jerky company. Recently introduced food regulations proved to be too many restrictions.

  6. Hi!
    Very interesting article.
    What kind of slicer do you use for industrial production without frozing the meat?
    Thanks!

    1. Bill, I been in the business for over 40 years. The first name in slicers that is dependable and affordable is Hobart. Before you shout that I am nuts being wrong about the cost. Yes a new one is 5k. I myself by used Hobarts for around 350.00 to 400.00. I surf the auctions. I have other slicers and hate them. Berkel for sure. A pain in the ass to clean. Not worth buying. You need screw drivers and wrenches etc. to take them apart for cleaning and you end up spending 30 or 40 minutes for the washdown. In 10 minutes my Hobart is apart cleaned and back together. Almost all the slicers out there function well. The thing to remember is “user friendly”. Before you buy one have the sales person do a teardown and see what is needed. Remember this unit has to be super clean if you don’t want to poison all your friends.
      If you have any questions about jerky manufacturing feel free to ask, glad to help. mike

    2. Bill, I apologize for the delay in response. Just swamped. FYI I was born in Windsor….not far from you. Answer to your question. I do not sell Jerky anymore. Smokinmike is one of names I branded and am part owner of this business. I create recipes and watch quality control. Also, to be truthful and a little embarrassed at the same time. I had never looked at the smokinmike.com website till a moment ago. Think it needs a lot of work.
      Anyhow, I would love to send you samples of the non-infused Jerky, Pepperoni, Prosciutto and cured sausage. The problem is at the moment it is illegal to send meat products to Canada from the states. My brothers have been put through the ringer at the Ambassador Bridge after getting caught with jerky I gave them. Not sure why but that is the case. If you have a US address I will oblige you.
      Bill, there are a couple of private label firms up where you live that would manufacture your recipe of jerky for you less than you can do it yourself. They will do it all including the packaging and Bill can concentrate on Brand building etc..
      If I could guide you the right way I would tell you to toss the Beef Jerky deal and make pork jerky. 1/3 the cost to make. Final product easier to bite through. Tastes the same. Less fat, waste and a buck a lb. instead of 4 bucks a lb.
      Cost around 4 dollars a lb to make instead of 10 dollars. The stuff I make is preferred over beef 5 to 1. I do not eat beef jerky since I came up with the current pork jerky mix.
      I use loins only. Cut them in half and run the slices lengthwise on the Hobart at about 1/4 inch thick. Then flip the pieces over and run them through again. Come out like long fat french fries. Marinade overnight and then the smoker. The yield is 10% higher than beef because of the density of the meat. Nevertheless, way better than beef and you also have a niche that others do not have.
      Bill, if you have any questions about the business just ask via contacting me through the website. I have been selling this stuff internationally and across the country for 40+ years and really have seen it all. Maybe I can help you avoid a lot of mistakes that might cost you for nothing. Tired and going to crash. Best wishes,, miike

      1. hi I am starting a small jerky business in Australia and have no idea where to start any help would be appreciated

      2. I would love to talk with you, we are starting a Jerky business and have only found one manufacturer/packaging company willing to work with us to date. We have a great business plan with a solid marketing platform for sales. We ran an 24 hour ad and ended it after 300 emails asking where they can purchase our products.
        Where would I find your contact info?
        Thank you,
        Sean

      3. I read an article by the FSIS yesterday that said a temperature of 160° must be reached to assure all bacteria is dead. Do people precook the meat and then smoke it or do they just smoke it to 160°?

        1. Hi Kevin, my dehydrator recommends to dry jerky at 155°. I can comfortably dry jerky at 147° (my preference for personal jerky) with no fear of bacteria, but mind you I dry the beef for at least 8 hours. If I dry jerky at 160°, I find that the jerky texture gets too crispy, at least with my dehydrator. Smoking jerky should be no different, where 155° in a smoker is 155° in a dehydrator for example. There is no need to precook the meat.

    1. Bill, I been in the business for over 40 years. The first name in slicers that is dependable and affordable is Hobart. Before you shout that I am nuts being wrong about the cost. Yes a new one is 5k. I myself by used Hobarts for around 350.00 to 400.00. I surf the auctions. I have other slicers and hate them. Berkel for sure. A pain in the ass to clean. Not worth buying. You need screw drivers and wrenches etc. to take them apart for cleaning and you end up spending 30 or 40 minutes for the washdown. In 10 minutes my Hobart is apart cleaned and back together. Almost all the slicers out there function well. The thing to remember is “user friendly”. Before you buy one have the sales person do a teardown and see what is needed. Remember this unit has to be super clean if you don’t want to poison all your friends.
      If you have any questions about jerky manufacturing feel free to ask, glad to help. mike

  7. Question?
    I have 7 stores willing to carry my jerky. From small mom and pops to a grocery store… I’m just starting negotiations next week.
    What percentage of my net profits should I share?
    What’s typical market % on these types of goods sold?
    50/50? 60/40?
    Any information would be HIGHLY appreciated!
    Thx,
    Rob

    1. Rob, you don’t share any of your net profit. Unless your married, then you get nothing and the wife gets it all. Your going to need to determine what you need per package to make the profit you want. Generally I get 2.60 for a 3oz pack. That is what I need to make 1.00 a pack. I sell 200 to 400 packs to each vender once a month. Now I have a roll stock machine and all the other equipment to produce high volume production. If you are doing this at home and doing all the work yourself you have to love what your doing or you are crazy.. You cannot make enough money to even meet minimum wage. What causes that is competition. Even if you have the best tasting product in the world. Dealers are looking at the bottom line. This may help you. The norm is your cost to the store is around .90 per ounce. The store normally marks it up 30 to 40% depending on what type of store. The little neighborhood stores mark up 50 to 60% over what they pay you. Big stores stay around 30%. Most big markets will not buy from you. You have to go through a distributor. You see the norm is you get yours, distributor gets 30% mark up, big store does the same. Plus 30%. So if you sell a 3oz bag for 2.70, the distributor get .80 a pack now that’s 3.50 and the store sells it plus 30% at 4.55 or so. What you charge is critical. The higher you are is magnified buy the time it is on the shelf. Something else for you to know, if your dreams are to be in the big stores that is not hard to do. The problem is slotting fees.
      You have to pay the big stores sometimes 5 to 15 thousand a month to have your product on their shelf. If you do not have a product that moves you will go broke and have to take the product back. They also want 1 to 2 million insurance policy which is up 5k a year on you. I have more than 40 years in this business and don’t sell beef jerky anymore. Not close to worth it. Figuring beef denutted top round at 3.60 a lb wholesale and as you know takes 2 lbs to make 1 lb jerky you have 7 to 8 buck just in meat. Leave no room for profit. Wonder how the other guys do it. Uruguay and Argentina. Beef is 40 cents a lb clean. I bought containers full of fillet for .50 cent a lb. Just got tired of the screw ups along the way. The solution for me was a niche product. Prosciutto. I pay 2 bucks a lb to make it and sell it for 70.00 a lb. Get it…..
      Best Wishes mike

  8. Hey guys any new Jerky business that wants to or is interested in sponsoring a growing Esports Org that can really promote and advertise your business through the gaming and social media Community, send me a DM on any of our Social media and check out our website @NovaCoreGaming
    We can discuss this if your really interested plus we have our own designer that can make personally made Ads, and promos for advertising and promoting your brand.
    Thank you for your time.hope to hear from you soon.
    Sincerely,
    Carlos J Garrido
    Founder & CEO of NovaCoreGaming

  9. Hi,am Afolabi from Nigeria,i find it difficult to liquid smoke in Nigeria all other ingredients are available.please can you just give a substitute for liquid smoke or what is you suggestion.thank and hope to hear from you soon

    1. Hi Afolabi, I am not aware of any substitutes for liquid smoke, other than to use a smoker to dry your jerky. Many jerky makers who use real smoke will scoff at jerky makers that use liquid smoke. My personal opinion is that liquid smoke is overrated anyway. It should be noted that the quality of liquid smoke can vary widely. High quality liquid smoke such as hickory or mesquite can be quite pricey, to remove the carcinogens. While not a proud moment, I have used liquid smoke from plywood, an extremely cheap $10 gallon jug, which had induced vomiting from multiple people during the drying process.

  10. hi my name is Antoine I’m starting a small jerky business in Australia. I’ve been working on the Food Safety Program since a month, and now i have no idea whats the next step. Also I’m wondering if a dehydrator excalibur will be fine or i will need to buy one commercial?
    Any help will be great thanks

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