Meeting a personal need and a nationwide demand and having a passion for a product are three powerful incentives for any entrepreneur beginning a new business. But for Steven Tibbs, the founder of Tibbs Beef Jerky, these are the foundations of a business with a bright future.
It’s not easy to begin a food-related business. Quality control and government requirements are complex and demanding. Competition is steep. And marketing and selling are challenging. That’s why Tibbs turned to the Small Business Development Center at California State University, Bakersfield, for help.
For those of you who believe jerky is a “dude food” eaten by men who crush beer cans on their foreheads, think again. It is one of the fastest-growing snack foods in the nation. According to a recent Nielsen study, the sales of meat snacks, including jerky and dry sausage sticks, have grown, while chip sales have slowed.
And you can credit Americans’ obsession with protein for these booming sales. Many jerky products now are geared to millennials, who are involved in such things as CrossFit and who are searching for healthy snacks to satisfy gluten-free and paleo diets. Basically, jerky is high in protein, low in fat and in calories, easy to transport and long lasting.
Jerky is a lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips and then dried. It can also be made of finely ground meat, mixed with seasonings and pressed into “meat paste.” The word “jerky” is derived from an Indian word that means “dried, salted meat.”
Although jerky today primarily uses beef, it can be made from a variety of meats, including ostrich and venison, and there are even vegan adaptations. Using spice combinations, they also come in many “flavors.” Tibbs Beef Jerky goes by such names as “Not Your Typical Teriyaki,” “Grampas Black Pepper” and “Oh My Spicy Garlic.”
“I started making jerky from home because today’s jerky doesn’t taste as great anymore,” said the Bakersfield native, who tasted his first piece of beef jerky in Arkansas when he was 7. “It sparked something in my taste buds that, as I grew older, gave me daily cravings.”
But the current offerings found in stores left him wanting.
“I started to notice some larger companies become more focused on production, rather than quality,” Tibbs said. “I began making my own beef jerky six year years ago because I was fed up with how today’s jerky tasted.”
In making his own jerky, the Army veteran said he also was looking for a way to change his eating habits.
“I wanted a healthy snack; I was 260 pounds,” said Tibbs, who now weighs 170 pounds. “I started out with a little dehydration unit and made my first batch. It tasted great.”
Tibbs said that he initially gave samples to his co-workers, who helped him develop five flavors. The next year, he used his tax refund check to buy five larger dehydration units to produce about 500 pounds of jerky every two weeks. He now ships his jerky to 45 states and 12 countries. Tibbs Beef Jerky can be bought online at www.tibbsjerky.com, at farmers markets and in an increasing number of convenience stores.
“There are 400 brands of jerky out there and each one has its uniqueness,” Tibbs said. “For the love of jerky, try my jerky. I’ve had so many people tell me it’s the best jerky they have ever tasted in their whole life.”
Experienced SBDC consultants are providing Tibbs one-on-one advice in a variety of areas, including marketing, developing business plans and obtaining funding to expand the fledgling jerky company.
The Small Business Development Center at CSUB is one of five service centers within the University of California, Central California SBDC Regional Network, which is a partnership between the university and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The center at CSUB assists entrepreneurs and small-business owners in Kern, Inyo and Mono counties by providing free consulting, small-business training and research. For more information, go to csub.edu/sbdc.
Kelly Bearden is the director of the Small Business Development Center at California State University, Bakersfield.