Client Interview: Uncle Andy’s Jerky
Date Posted: 03/23/2016 | By:
Recently we caught up with Andy of Uncle Andy’s Jerky. His adventurous, delicious jerky flavors are taking the area—and the country! —by storm. Probably one of the sweetest businessmen you could meet, we had a nice conversation about the future of jerky and the good people in Fort Collins, CO who have helped him get to where he is now.
Us: When did you start the business?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: I started in working on the concept in fall of 2012. We launched in fall 2014, after two years of trying to figure out the brand and the flavors and how we wanted to do things. You know, with jerky, it’s typically standard flavors– Teriyaki, Original and Hot. We decided to use some other flavors and see where it could go. It’s been a nice ride.
Us: What’s different about your jerky?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: We want to make good, delicious food. The market is pretty complicated these days, but my personal opinion is: if it tastes good then people are going to eat it. I think a lot of other people feel that way too.
We wanted to work on adventurous flavors that set us apart. So what I did is I started looking at other recipes that people use on meat. So that’s where it all came from – if you eat a steak with it, or use it on pork chops, then why can’t it be in jerky? Our newest flavor is mushroom & blue cheese, which is based off of a mushroom blue cheese steak recipe.
We use quality ingredients: we don’t use preservatives, we don’t use nitrates. Unless it’s essential for the flavor, then there’s no reason to have it. A lot of ingredients have been added to food in the last 50 years or so and they’ve been really about shelf life and making things cheaper. So for us it’s about going back to basics, using good ingredients and making a good product.
Us: Tell me about “honest ingredients” and why you chose to use that phrase.
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: The reason we use “honest ingredients” is that I feel like we can define what it means rather than defend using another phrase like “all-natural.” There are so many people who are against “all-natural.” To me honest ingredients means that we want to be transparent with the ingredients we’re using. If you ask, we can tell you exactly what’s in there. Also we know where everything comes from. We use a choice Angus beef. It’s a high quality beef that is not grass-fed/grass-finished. But it’s a better quality than what most people use in jerky.
In food, there are so many people that have looked at these catch phrases like “all-natural.” And they’re sold on things like that. But the reality is that a lot of these phrases are more complex. A lot of grass-fed and finished beef is coming from very distant places like New Zealand, Australia and South America. So for me, you have to figure the balance with sustainability and environmental impact and accessibility.
Another big thing for me is making a quality product that people can still afford. Something that really struck a chord was when we were doing early test batches; we would sell them inexpensively to friends at the climbing gym, just to re-coup our costs and get their opinions.
And we did one batch that just wasn’t representative of what I wanted it to be. It was totally edible and tasted fine. It just wasn’t a flavor that I was going to sell. So we brought it to a food kitchen and donated it. Their response made me think a lot. People there don’t often eat protein because they can’t afford it, because protein is really expensive. So we gave it to them and they were really appreciative. So I started feeling that using grass-fed and -finished meat means that you’re catering to a very exclusive group of people because of cost. So it’s like: how can we use ingredients that are good but that make the product available for more people?
Us: Tell me about the name. Are you an uncle?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: It’s funny. I was looking for names and Uncle Andy’s Jerky just had a nice ring to it. At the time I didn’t have any nieces or nephews. I had friends whose kids would joke and call me Uncle Andy. So friends’ kids were really where it came from. Although my sister actually just gave birth! So I have a niece now and I’m actually an uncle.
Us: Have you always been a big fan of jerky?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: No. I never ate jerky. Or actually, I should say that I very rarely ate jerky when I was in Texas. There were a few places that I would get jerky – little butcher shops that do their own jerky. But I saw some potential and got interested – bought a meat slicer and the rest is history.
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: I chose Fort Collins because I had some friends out here. I came to visit and just really loved the area. A friend was getting married and I was in the wedding. So I decided that my move date had to be before the wedding. For me a big part what I want to do is be involved in the community. I chose Fort Collins because of the community. And as I grow I want to continue to be active here. And I want to keep giving back, the way a lot of other companies have, and to help out the way a lot of people have helped me out. So far it’s been great, we’ve gotten a lot of people and we have 20-plus stores in Fort Collins that carry our jerky.
Us: Tell me about the beer thing.
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: We model our jerky business on the craft beer market. The cool thing about craft beer is that limited-run beers are the big sellers. So that’s kind of what we’re looking to do. I don’t want to have 30 flavors. It would be too much. But at the same time, if I only had four flavors, I would get bored. The innovation aspect of it is one of my favorite parts of the business. And so, with craft beer they’re doing seasonal, limited-run stuff. That’s what we like to do too. And it enables us to just keep listening to customer suggestions and making new flavors that come and go.
Us: Is it also about selling jerky to the craft beer people? Selling jerky at bars?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: Right now, we’re at a bunch of breweries. Actually breweries were some of the first places that sold it. I think Horse & Dragon was the first brewery. It’s exciting that we’re in a lot more breweries now. Hopefully, we can contribute to what they’re doing. We’re even hoping to do collaboration with a brewery where we get their beer into a recipe.
Us: What are the best ways to eat the jerky?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: There’s huge potential and you can have it anywhere. I mean, it’s a snack – you’re not necessarily going to make it a meal. But I have heard about some people putting jerky on their salad. That’s kind of fun to see people cook with it or use it other than just as a snack. There’s such a perception of it as a truck-stop snack. For us, no – it’s for charcuterie and you can put it out with cheese at parties. For us, it’s just trying to make better flavors. I mean, not everyone is going to like every flavor. But hopefully people who kind of thought they didn’t like jerky will love our jerky. And they’re going on the airplane and they need a snack – or they’re at a brewery. We want to sell in the traditional venues, but it’s also exciting to see opportunity in some new venues. We are talking to potential airlines, and hotels, casinos, and we sell in a couple of climbing gyms. So that’s kind of the goal.
Us: How did you find out about Leapin’ Lizard?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: So, we sell at Horse & Dragon – that was one of our first places. So Casey [a Leapin’ Lizard labelmaker] was going down there and every once in a while I would go drop an order off or I’d just be there having a beer and he’d come in with a stack of stickers from Leapin’ Lizard. And so when I was looking for someone to do the product stickers, I wanted to try to keep it local. They just seemed like good people, and they were very easy to work with. Because they were local, we could get things done in a timely manner.
Us: How has working with Leapin’ Lizard Labels been?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: They are super efficient. We had to figure out what I want, and we had some questions for them about types of sticker and finish. You know, there are a lot of places you can get labels online. But because I’m local, it’s really easy to go in and explain what I’m looking for and get help right there – rather than having to guess what I’m getting.
Now we do full-printed pouches. So we’re not doing tons of stickers. We always need to do smaller runs of stickers and you can bet we’ll be using them.
Us: And you think you’ll be in Fort Collins for a while now?
Uncle Andy’s Jerky: Someone asked me that recently – about how long I was planning on staying here. And I was like, well, I moved here to start a company. So – I’m planning to be here for the long term!