How to Start a Beef Jerky Business

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Easily one of the most enticing opportunities for burgeoning small-time entrepreneurs is the niche food industry. In particular, the beef jerky business is one sector that’s experienced significant growth in recent years. The jerky industry as a whole clocked over $1 billion in sales in the United States alone in 2012 and shows no signs of slowing up any time soon. During the past five years, the industry has  grown 3.7% annually.  There’s plenty of room for expansion, which bodes well for the little guy just starting out.

Licensing & Regulations
First things first, get the bureaucratic red tape out of the way before you get rolling. USDA inspections will be an important consideration if you plan on producing jerky yourself. Generally speaking, federal rather than state rules will probably be the real sticking point. If you want to move beyond selling your product at a roadside stand, you’ll want to take care of this beforehand. Form an LLC or an S Corporation to protect yourself later on. With that out of the way, it’s time to get to the dehydrated meat and potatoes of your new enterprise.
Sourcing the Product
Obviously, you’ll need jerky to sell. There are two routes one might take: you can either make it yourself or buy wholesale and sell retail. Making beef jerky, as you might imagine, isn’t tough. Creating a unique product, however, is another matter entirely. Concocting a winning recipe requires a lot of hard work and experimentation. Spices, rubs and techniques take awhile to perfect. Furthermore, you’ll need to invest in things like storage refrigerators and dehydrators at the outset. When you consider how hard it is to start from scratch, it might make more sense to start off by  having a licensed local meat processor make the jerky and selling it under your own brand name.

Marketing, Branding & Sales
If you want to make your jerky business a success, you’ll need to aggressively market your product and establish yourself in your local area. A brand name and identity that’s memorable is imperative. Key to standing out in any crowded market is identifying and targeting your niche. Most likely, the type of people that buy corporate jerky at gas stations won’t be worth focusing on. Instead, try selling your wares at farmers’ markets and health food stores. Hawking your jerky online can quickly skyrocket sales if you know what you’re doing.

Odds, Ends & Moving Forward
As with any business, you’ll inevitably end up dealing with more bookkeeping and administrative work than you might have first imagined. With greater revenue comes greater responsibilities. Once you have more financial wiggle room, you can go about fine-tuning your business and reducing costs to make your operation more efficient. If you’re merely reselling, you can switch to making your own jerky and building up some infrastructure. The best thing about the jerky business is that anyone can succeed with a bit of creativity and ambition.

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