While many purveyors of gourmet jerky have ditched nitrites, reduced sodium, jazzed up their flavor profiles, and selected higher-quality meats, they are “not selling complete meals, just meat snacks”, says Wild Zora co-founder Zora Tabin, who includes organic fruits and vegetables in her grass-fed beef snacks from kale and spinach to turmeric.
“To me a meal includes meat and veggies,” she tells FoodNavigator-USA.
Wild Zora beef, lamb and turkey bars, which are preserved with sea salt and celery powder, have a nine-month shelf life, which is shorter than many meat snacks, but long enough to get on shelf at major retailers, adds Zora, who has secured distribution for her bars in just over 400 stores including Whole Foods and King Soopers.
“Who wants to eat something that’s been sitting around for years?”
"Some people just want to seize an opportunity to make money... they don’t care about the bigger vision at all." Josh Tabin, co-founder, Wild Zora
We perform significantly better in stores that put us in the bar set rather than the jerky set
Retailers have been quick to embrace the product – because it is different – although they cannot always decide where to merchandise it, observes co-founder Josh Tabin.
However, the data is pretty clear, he says: “We perform significantly better in stores that put us in the bar set rather than in the jerky set. When Whole Foods put us in the energy bar set, sales went up dramatically.”
The Tabins have also learned that retailers that price the bars at $2.99 see them move considerably faster than those that charge $3.29, adds Josh.
“I’ve done my own margin contribution analysis and the stores that sell our bars at $2.99 are making more money than the stores that are charging more.”
Target consumers: Paleo fans, endurance athletes, the free-from crowd, and Moms
So who is buying Wild Zora bars?
The Tabins say their customers can be divided into four groups: The Paleo, primal and Whole30 crowd; people looking for ‘free-from’ foods (no dairy, soy, nuts, etc); Crossfit enthusiasts and endurance athletes; but also Moms looking for nutritious and satiating snacks.
While men have historically been the heaviest consumers of meat snacks, Wild Zora’s packaging is designed to appeal to both sexes, stresses Zora: “We wanted to avoid the bold black packaging you see in this market a lot, which can be a bit off-putting.”
As for the pack design, the Tabins’ desire to stand out on shelf with a square package presented challenges as well as opportunities, acknowledges Josh: “It’s different, we don’t use a traditional flow-wrapper that a bar company would use, but we think it stands out in the market.”
Manufacturing: We were about to give up and then we had a lucky break
As for manufacturing, it was hard to find a co-packer at first, he adds: “We had to find a USDA facility, and many of them didn’t want to take on an unproven product, even though food scientists had assured us that our process was safe. We were about to give up and then we had a lucky break and found a burrito company for sale that already had a USDA facility, which we acquired.
“We’ve been in production there for about 18 months but we are now looking for a bigger facility.”
We perform significantly better in stores that put us in the bar set rather than in the jerky set. When Whole Foods put us in the energy bar set, sales went up dramatically.” Josh Tabin, co-founder, Wild Zora
We don’t want to overly dilute our company this early
As for cash flow, it's a challenge, he adds, especially if you are selling products that consumers don’t immediately ‘get’, but typically love once they try them.
“Sampling is really works for our products, but it’s very expensive.”
On raising capital, he says: “We’re not in the mindset that we want to go at meteoric speed so we don’t want to take on a major investor or VC firm, but we do need capital, so we’re looking more at angel investors, bank debt and other options as we don’t want to overly dilute our company this early.”
Some people really don’t care about the people that are eating their food
But is the ultimate goal to sell to a strategic buyer?
No, insists Josh. “Some people just want to seize an opportunity to make money, and they really don’t give a shit about the people that are eating their food; they don’t care about the bigger vision at all.
“But we believe that the more people we can convince that there is an alternative to all the grains, starches and sugars that we are all addicted to, will mean less metabolic disease and inflammatory disease and reduce the burden on our healthcare system and on our communities.
“I just think that there is a much greater vision that is completely lost on people that just want to jump into this because it is a hot on-trend category.”
As for selling to a strategic buyer, Zora says: “You see all these glorifying articles about how these people build these businesses up and then sell them for a ton of money and I don’t see that as a healthy picture for my kids. I would rather have them read about a business that has been in the family for a second generation or 20-30 years, that employs local people and does good for the community.”