From semi-retirement project to industrial expansion, jerky production ramps up as demand grows – ABC News

A man and a woman smile at the camera

A lesser-known snack food in Australia is surging in popularity, prompting a family-owned regional business to ramp up its production of beef jerky.

Mike and Cindy Epp started commercially producing beef jerky from their home in the small coastal town of Robe in 2020.

Their “semi-retirement” project of Mike’s Beef Jerky grew so rapidly that the business moved into an industrial factory in Robe just 12 months after its inception.

Mike Epp said the pair were poised to expand their operations.

“There’s a lot of demand for our product,” he said.

“We’re fairly South Australian-centric. The product is stocked in all your regional areas with pubs and general stores.

“We are looking to expand into Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.”

A man and a woman smile at the camera
Mike and Cindy have been making beef jerky for family and friends for 35 years, and now have an industrial factory in Robe. (ABC South East SA: Grace Whiteside)

Recent reports from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) showed the nation’s jerky market was worth about $40 million with a “high growth opportunity.”

One study found there had been 50 per cent growth in the jerky sector in the United States and the United Kingdom between 2011 and 2016.

The report claimed that “Australia is poised for a meat snacks revolution”.

Future research and development proposals in the MLA report included investigating overseas market opportunities and an industry partnership with Australian chefs.

A COVID-born business

Mr Epp said the duo decided to move to Robe permanently about five years ago.

A man stands with his back to the camera with a big stainless steal oven next to him
The meat is wood-smoked in three electronically-controlled industrial smokers. (ABC South East SA: Grace Whiteside)

“We did look at production facilities outside of Robe, but we wanted to hang our hat here and call Robe home and retire here,” he said.

“It was supposed to be semi-retirement. It didn’t work that way.

“We couldn’t help ourselves but continue to grow this.”

The couple from Canada 24 years ago but had not initially planned on bringing their jerky to the market.

A man and a woman stand with their arms around each other, a stainless steel machine behind them
The duo say they are looking to increase to at least six cooking sessions each day. (ABC South East SA: Grace Whiteside)

“We’ve been doing this for family and friends for probably 35 years,” Mr Epp said.

“I don’t know if we ever thought that it would be something that we would do commercially, but it was always sitting in the back of our minds.”

From veterinary nurse to jerky production

“I had always watched Mike make his jerky at home,” Mrs Epp said.

“This is a bit of a funny because he’d always make a mess of my oven, and then I’d have to clean the oven after.

“But it was always so good to eat, and the boys [their sons] loved it.”

A pile of beef jerky spilling out of a packet onto a wooden board
Mrs Epp says it has been a “learning curve”. (ABC South East SA: Grace Whiteside)

Mrs Epp said establishing and growing the business had been a “learning curve”.

“Being a vet nurse, I didn’t grow up learning manufacturing,” she said.

“We’re looking at increasing our cooking or production – so we want to get up to at least six cooks a day.”

Snack foods on the rise

Food South Australia chief executive Catherine Sayer said consumers were on the lookout for health-conscious options.

A woman with short hair and glasses smiles at the camera with buildings behind her
Catherine Sayer said snack foods, particularly healthier options, were a key growth area. (Supplied: Food South Australia)

“Snack foods are a key growth area,” she said.

“When there’s no additives and preservatives, and what we call free-from, that also adds a lot of cache to a product.

“Snack foods are definitely on the rise [and] we’re seeing that emergence of beef jerky.

“I suspect if we have this conversation in two to five years’ time, it’ll become more commonplace, and consumers will be eating a lot of beef jerky.”

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About the Author: Eugene Berry