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Rustic Jerky brings high-end meat snacks to the Czech market speaks with Mark Daly, co-founder of Rustic Jerky

The demand for a healthy, portable protein source is growing exponentially with today's on-the-go lifestyle and the dietary trend to eat “real.” Greek yogurt, once the hottest item on a protein-lover's menu, is facing tough competition from a new niche market of gourmet meat jerky. The new types of jerky appeal to meat-lovers who want fast protein and succulent taste without the sodium overload of traditional jerky. As more and more “healthy” snacks hide sugars, sweeteners and various E-numbers in their ingredient list, how can the average consumer make smart purchases without having an advanced degree in nutrition? Two expat entrepreneurs have put their business skills together to bring beef jerky made without additives, chemicals or artificial favors to the Czech snack market.

 Mark Daly and Phillip Press, co-founders of the start-up company Rustic Jerky, say their aim is to keep it simple. The company makes jerky from start to finish the traditional way. They take a good cut of lean meat and add all-natural ingredients like honey, lime, chili peppers and fresh spices. Once the meat is seasoned, they dry it. The result is a chemical-free, no preservatives, no additives, high-protein meat snack. With flavors like Honey BBQ, Habanero & Lime and Smokin' Ghost, Rustic Jerky is not your run-of-the-mill Slim Jim. 

The concept isn’t a new one; drying and smoking meat to preserve it is probably as old as man's use of fire. Eating healthy food is also nothing new, but at some point snack foods became synonymous with junk foods. The past five years have turned this trend upside down. According to a recent Nielson survey, one in ten people today eat snacks instead of meals. Modern-day consumers want snacks to provide the nutritional value of a meal, while still satisfying their desire to indulge in a treat. 

With a growing interest in living active, healthy lifestyles, people are turning to “superfoods,” or nutrient powerhouses, to give them what their bodies need.

Gourmet-style jerky has made it onto recent super-food lists in health and sports magazines. “There is a compelling consumer need for getting a high-quality portion of protein into snacks outside of meal times” says Mark Daly, co-founder at Rustic Jerky. “A 50g bag of our product provides a massive 25g of protein without the added worry about carbs and fats.” Calling their product a “super-food for carnivores,” Rustic Jerky founders intend to appeal to the modern meat-eating consumer.

The Czech Republic is a country known for its meat consumption, although the beef jerky product is still relatively new here. “Consumers see the value of a lean protein in a snack form,” Mark says. “There’s definitely a lot to do in terms of market education as the product is relatively new here, but this is a meat-loving country. There's also been a consistent lack of quality in beef jerky here over the years, but we want to change this,” says Mark. 

In the U.S. jerky is a $1.5 billion dollar industry. From 2009-2014 the meat snacks market saw a 58% growth according to IRI Worldwide and annual growth in the category is speeding up, particularly in the category of healthy, gourmet jerky. "A recent trend among consumers of viewing protein as an effective appetite suppressant and energy booster has further helped jerky to be perceived as a smart snacking option,” Euromonitor notes in its report

Long known as a man's snack, the core demographic for jerky is still primarily men in the 18-50 range, but “the snack is growing fast in other areas, especially with women,” Mark says. “Recognizing that Rustic Jerky is an all-natural product will help change this.” 

More adventurous flavor profiles along with expanding consumer palates mean there is a big future for companies who offer specialty items. Remember, says Mark, “every item was a specialty item until the demand grew and made it a staple in our fridges and cupboards.” Presently, the global jerky market is controlled by two or three big players that account for upwards of 60% of worldwide sales. “It’s precisely with these companies that my love of beef jerky was born.  Without them, we might not be where we are today,” says Mark.  

Yet, Rustic Jerky aims to keep their operation local, at least in the beginning. Starting their own business in the Czech Republic as non-natives, Mark and Phillip had to get used to overcoming hurdles with the Czech bureaucracy. Their third colleague, Operations Director Anna Vaňková, helped with the detailed logistics, and they learned from initial setbacks what was important for their management team. “Division of labor is key,” Mark says. “Everyone knows his or her responsibilities, and we write everything down to weather the problems one at a time.” 

Since their jerky is a meat product manufactured from scratch going to a consumer level, they have to cross-check every detail. “Our factory looks like a laboratory. We have to make sure that everything we do is 110% all the time. Cross all our T's and dot all our I's.”

With production now underway in their Prague factory, Rustic Jerky will soon be available in pubs and shops, health food stores and fitness centers in the Czech Republic. It can also be bought online from the Rustic Jerky website. For businesses interested in distributing the product, the company is looking for local distribution to build the market themselves from scratch. Expect to see the pair with their jerky at events and festivals where they can meet-and-greet consumers. “We want to keep it local in the beginning so that we can get feedback. We've got additional flavors in the pipeline for production and we want to offer samples for taste-testing,” Mark says. 

If you're on-the-go and need a snack, Rustic Jerky offers an indulgent, but guilt-free way to keep your energy up. Whether engaging in physical activity, having a break at work or stopping in the pub for a Czech beer, you can count on Rustic Jerky to satisfy your craving for real food without slowing you down.

Rustic Jerky

Author: Emily Prucha, - Prague, 09.10.2015

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