Chef’s Cut Real Snack Sticks
Chef's Cut Real Jerky unveiled a new line of Chef’s Cut Real Snack Sticks at the NACS Show.

ATLANTA — How does the fastest growing jerky brand plan to remain a cut above in a competitive category?

Bart Silvestro, Chef's Cut Jerky
Bart Silvestro, c.e.o. of Chef’s Cut 

“In the world we play in, my belief is it’s not the big that eats the small; it’s the fast that eats the slow,” said Bart Silvestro, chief executive officer of Chef’s Cut Real Jerky. “It’s all about us staying ahead of the curve, keeping our foot on the pedal and not letting up at all.”

Founded in 2009, New York-based Chef’s Cut has a portfolio that includes steak jerky, turkey jerky, chicken jerky and bacon jerky in culinary-inspired flavors. The business began on a golf course, where chef Blair Swiler shared homemade jerky with Dennis Riedel. The two began smoking and selling the gourmet jerky to golf and country clubs across the country. The brand has since grown into grocery, convenience and mass retailers nationwide, driving sales of $3.7 million in the year ended April 17, 2016, an increase of 597% over the prior year, according to data from Information Resources, Inc.

To support further growth, the company earlier this year received a $2 million investment from CAVU Venture Partners, a firm founded by industry veterans Clayton Christopher, Rohan Oza and Brett Thomas.

Chef’s Cut has a portfolio that includes steak jerky, turkey jerky, chicken jerky and bacon jerky in culinary-inspired flavors.

“CAVU is more of a partner than they are an investor,” Mr. Silvestro said. “Clayton is a bootstrappy founder, so he relates to us as operators… Rohan is a brand visionary, big picture, how to make a big splash and create buzz around the brand. He’s all about team culture. And then you have Brett, who is more of a levelheaded finance guy that helps you from a financial standpoint but also has a bit of marketing flair.”

The company unveiled a new line of Chef’s Cut Real Snack Sticks at the NACS Show, hosted by the National Association of Convenience Stores and held Oct. 18-21 in Atlanta. Varieties include original smokehouse beef and pork, jalapeño cheddar pork and beef, barbecue chicken, and buffalo style chicken.

In an interview with Food Business News, Mr. Silvestro discussed the new products and his competitive strategy in the booming meat snacks category.

Food Business News: What drove the insights to launch a meat stick format?

Bart Silvestro:  Most sticks out there are not better-for-you. We have all pantry ingredients. If you look at the jalapeño cheddar stick, it’s real cheddar from Wisconsin, it’s fresh jalapeño… it’s not powder. It’s real ingredients.

Cheddar and jalapeno slices
Chef's Cut's  jalapeño cheddar stick is made with cheddar from Wisconsin and fresh jalapeños, not powder.

Sticks lend to grab and go, on the go, hiking, running, biking. It’s easy to carry, it’s easy to eat while doing something, while running, while on your bike.

If you’re eating a meat stick, it almost feels like you’re eating a meal versus a bar, which feels like a piece of dessert. There are 8 grams of protein in each stick. You can have two or three sticks and still have less calories and fat than a protein bar.

How long did it take to develop the sticks?

Mr. Silvestro: The sticks were in development for almost a year. It took a lot of R.&D. and trial and error. It was test and learn.

We tried a bunch of different flavors. Chicken was very tough for us due to the fact that we use a high quality chicken breast, which gets dry. So we struggled with chicken. That’s why it took us so long to perfect it. We wanted the texture to be right and not be a dry, mealy stick. We wanted to have it be full of flavor.

Chef's Cut chicken jerky
Chef's Cut offers chicken jerky, which not many other brands produce.

Why use chicken if it was so difficult to do?

Mr. Silvestro: Point of differentiation. There’s not a lot of chicken sticks out there. Everybody (has) either pork or beef or a blend of both… We (already have) our chicken jerky, and there’s not a lot of chicken jerkies out there. There’s a lot of turkey jerky and pork jerky.

What is your perspective of the meat snacks category?

Mr. Silvestro: Jerky is very competitive. I do believe the longtime incumbents in the category, in my mind, they’re trying. They’re stale, but they’re trying to revitalize their brands and keep up with the newer trends and the newer companies out there. Because a lot of companies like us, craft jerkies, artisan jerkies, have hit the market.

Chef's Cut varieties
Chef's Cut is the fastest growing jerky company in the category.

I do believe, and I am biased, that we are leading the charge. We are the fastest growing jerky company in the category, and of the newer brands, we’re one of the only brands who has been able to cross over multi channels, whether it’s mass, grocery, convenience. We’re gaining traction everywhere.

Convenience is about 63% of the category, and for all these years, it’s only been a couple of big players. We’ve been able to gain some traction and disrupt things, and it’s been fun to watch.

What kinds of innovation will we see from Chef’s Cut in the future?

Mr. Silvestro: We’re always innovating. We are continually innovating, whether it’s different proteins, different forms, and just different products altogether… it may be completely outside of traditional meat snacks, but it will be something to do with chef-inspired, something to tie back to our core values and our core brand.