Dried Beef Industry Profile

Revised April 2012 by Gary Brester, professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Montana State University, gbrester@montana.edu

By Reg Clause, Value-Added Ag specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, rclause@iastate.edu. May 2011


Prior to the advent of refrigeration, a variety of preservation techniques were needed to store meat products.  These techniques usually involved drying to decrease moisture content, adding salt and sugar to further decrease moisture levels and inhibit bacterial growth, and adding spices to impart flavor.  For example, the Incas salted and dried strips of meat that they called “charque,” the likely origin of the word “jerky.”  The traditional Mexican version of dried beef is called “carne seca.”  In many African countries, meat or wild game is dried to produce “biltong.”  Native Americans produced “pemmican” by drying strips of buffalo, elk, or deer meat in the sun, pounding it into small pieces, and then adding melted fat and sometimes dried fruits such as cranberries or blueberries.


In modern times, dried beef products sold in the United States are generally thinly sliced or rectangular in shape.  Often, these strips are marinated with a dry spice rub or liquid marinade.  In both cases, beef is thinly sliced and then cured.  Beef strips are either dipped in a liquid marinade of salt and water or a dry curing mixture of sugar and salt several times over several days.  The strips are then dried or smoked.

Other forms of dried beef include meat sticks and jerky.  Meat sticks tend to be softer and easier to chew.  Their smaller size is designed to meet demands of women and children.  Jerky is generally produced from thickly cut strips of meat.  The typical jerky consumer is a 18 to 34 year-old male in the western United States with a household income between $50,000 and $70,000.


A few brands dominate the pre-packaged jerky and meat snacks industry (see table below).  The primary brands include Jack Link’s, Slim Jim, Pemmican, and Oh Boy! Oberto.  These companies also compete globally and are generally privately-owned by families with a long history in the meat snack industry.

Link Industries (Minong, Wisconsin) owns the Jack Link’s beef jerky brands and is a privately-held family company.  According to the Nielsen Company, Jack Link's has garnered about 40% of the snack meat market.

The Slim Jim and Pemmican (as well as Penrose, Big Mama, and Firecracker) brands are owned by ConAgra Foods, a large packaged goods company in Omaha, Nebraska.  Slim Jim is estimated to have a market share of about 21%.

Meat Snack Sales for 12-Month Period Ending April 19, 2009.
Brand Total Sales in $ % Change from Prior Year
Jack Link's 64,350,620 0.93

OhBoy! Oberto

10,205,500 -27.70
Pemmican 5,559,039 -21.16
Slim Jim 3,749,621 20.47

Source: Information Resources Inc.

Oberto Sausage Company (Kent, Washington) owns the Oh Boy! Oberto, Lowrey’s, Pacific Gold, and Smokecraft brands.  Founded as a family-owned company, it has grown rapidly in the past 10 years.  Until recently, the company partnered with Frito-Lay who distributed their products to grocery, convenience, and club stores.  Oberto cited poor returns and loss of market share as the reasons for ending the partnership.

A large number of regional, dried meat companies exist, and private-label sales are increasing.  For example, 7-Eleven Inc. introduced its own brand of beef jerky, 7-Select, in late 2008.  The Walgreens drug store chain sells beef jerky under the Steakhouse brand.

Market Size

Retail sales of meat snacks in convenience stores reached $836 million in 2008.  Convenience stores account for more than 72% of sales while grocery stores account for about 20%.  The Nielsen Company estimates that the total sale of meat snacks has grown 65% since 2003 and reached about $1.2 billion in 2008.  However, a recent report indicates that only 40% of U.S. households purchase meat snacks.

Throughout history, dried meat was valued for its convenience and nutritional value as a protein source.  More recently, the growth of meat snack sales has been attributed to the popularity of low-carb and low-fat diets, a more diverse flavor selection, innovative products, improved marketing, and softer textures.  Recent trends include the use of chicken, pork, and turkey, organic, MSG-free and gluten-free options, and portion-controlled, single-serve packaging.


American Meat Science Association

For Epicures, a New Take on Jerky, New York Times.

Jerky and Food Safety, FSIS, USDA.

Jerky Making: Then and Now, North Dakota State University

Snack Food Association

Something to Chew On, National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) magazine.

The Facts on Meat Snacks, Convenience Store Decisions

Links checked November 2013.