CHICAGO — Biltong can transform how America snacks.
That’s the belief of manufacturer Stryve Biltong Snacks, based in Plano, Texas. But the company understands that accomplishing this may be challenging, considering many Americans have never heard of the meat snack, said Jaxie Alt, the company’s chief marketing officer.
Biltong is a favorite snack in South Africa, where its origins date back hundreds of years. Unlike jerky, which is baked, biltong is air-dried.
At Stryve, the manufacturing process involves slicing top round steak into long slabs, washing the slabs in vinegar, dry-rubbing them with seasonings, hanging the slabs in a humidity-controlled room to air dry for up to two weeks, and then slicing the meat into thin, easy-to-chew pieces.
Perhaps the greatest challenge to biltong’s growth is consumer awareness, Alt said.
“No one has heard of this word ‘biltong,’” she said. “And so we are doing a lot to drive awareness and a lot to drive trial—and sampling, sampling, sampling is a huge piece of our strategy.”
Biltong isn’t setting the world on fire yet, but it is a good option for those looking for a healthier protein, said Dave Wolf, meat snacks category manager for Irving Texas-based 7-Eleven. Even so, 7-Eleven is still in wait-and-see mode with the new snack.
“I’ll probably always carry at least one of the biltong SKUs just for that customer, but I’m still on the fence to see if it’s really going to be superpopular,” Wolf said.
How It Began
The culture and history of biltong is partially what drew Made by True co-founder and CEO Jess Thomas to the product.
Thomas, along with Vice President of Sales James Evans and chief financial officer Kevin Hix, started the company as True Jerky in 2015, selling traditional jerky. They renamed the San Francisco-based company Made by True, and it added biltong to its product lineup about a year ago.
The fundamental difference between jerky and biltong comes down to the process, Thomas said. With beef jerky, typically manufacturers take whole-muscle beef, slice it into strips and tumble it with a liquid-based marinade before baking it. In Made by True’s biltong process, whole muscles are cured in vinegar and spices before being hung to dry at room temperature for about a week. There’s no heat to the process, Thomas said; he compares the product to a cured meat, such as prosciutto.
Made by True biltong is made with 100% U.S. beef and no sugar.
“What we’ve found that really compels people to purchase so far is the nutritional aspects of it,” Thomas said. “That seems to be what resonates with people most. And everything else adds to the enthusiasm. But to get people to try it for the first time, it all starts with no sugar.”
Each 2-ounce bag of Made by True’s sliced biltong contains 32 grams of protein. Available in three varieties—garlic herb, hint of spice and classic—and with a suggested retail price of $6.99, the biltong has a premium edge compared to Made by True’s jerky, which comes in beef and turkey and is priced at $5.99 for a 2.25-ounce bag. The product is currently carried in some 7-Eleven sites in Southern California and Sprouts Farmers Market.
Meat snacks are doing well overall because of the popular, high-protein keto and paleo diets, Wolf said. 7-Eleven is also adding biltong from Kalahari Biltong to some California stores before the end of the year. Other manufacturers planning to enter the convenience-store channel include The Chicago Biltong Co. and Brooklyn Biltong.
'Alternative to Jerky'
Biltong can bring those who don’t eat jerky into the meat snacks category, Thomas said. Made by True and Stryve both advise placing biltong next to jerky in the snacks set.
“It’s an alternative to jerky,” Alt said. “[Selling it by jerky] helps the consumer understand exactly what it is.”
Stryve has 36 grams of protein in every 2.25-ounce bag. Varieties include original, smoked, spicy peri peri, teriyaki and zesty garlic. The biltong slices are available in a 2.25-ounce bag ($7.99), 4-ounce bag ($10.99) and 10-ounce bag ($20.99). Stryve also sells biltong sticks, which come in a two-pack ($3.99), 12-pack ($24.99), Big Bag of Biltong Stick Minis ($25.99) and an online-only trail mix ($4.99).
Tim Young, category manager of candy, snacks and edible grocery for Bardstown, Ky.-based FiveStar Food Marts, brought in a shipper of Stryve in May. He saw a spike in sales after running a buy one, get one promotion deal. Young planned to review the product’s sales at the end of the summer to decide if FiveStar will continue to carry it.
“We have a nice inline set for meat snacks, and then we also have two separate wings that kind of bookend the category,” Young said. “So whether we position in inline or whether we position it on a wing, I just wanted to have some data to see how it has performed.”
If FiveStar continues to sell the product, Young said he’ll likely try to put something on social media to explain better what the product is.
Executives with Stryve hope that biltong eventually is a household word.
“Everybody knows what jerky is; we want everybody to know what biltong is,” Alt said. “We think it is a better option than jerky. It is healthier for you. And that’s our goal and that’s our challenge.”