- More snack manufacturers are adding biltong, a South African air-dried meat snack, to their product lines, according to Food Business News. While the product's sales growth is encouraging, companies are finding it necessary to educate U.S. consumers on what biltong is and how it's different from jerky and meat sticks.
- The difference stems from the production process, which creates a flavor and texture unlike jerky. The beef is marinated in spices and vinegar, giving it flavor. The meat is then cured, air-dried and either sliced into strips or made into sticks. Unlike jerky, biltong is not cooked or smoked.
- Biltong's popularity is growing as meat snacks compete with potato chips and popcorn as flavorful, indulgent and affordable products. U.S. households spend about $25.81 per year on meat snacks, according to a 2017 report from Nielsen.
Growing meat snack sales have prompted U.S. manufacturers to focus on producing biltong products or add it to their existing portfolios. Technavio research reported global meat snack sales may reach $9.47 billion by 2021. Nielsen said the U.S. meat snack market is a $2.8 billion category that could see 4.2% annual growth through 2022. This growing market helps to explain why companies are launching more biltong products, which can stand out among typical jerky lines.
But companies are realizing it requires extra effort. Launching the niche product means there might need to be an educational component to help consumers distinguish it from jerky. The co-founders of Made By True, a San Francisco-based maker of both biltong and jerky, said a trip to South Africa to see how biltong is made showed them this was going to be a "hot space." Made By True describes its biltong products as being cured in vinegar and spices, dried at room temperature for up to a week and then sliced. The company doesn't mention the products aren't technically "cooked."
More small brands are investing in producing and promoting the snack. St Marcus, a U.K.-based producer of biltong, said the South African product, in its basic form, is an air-dried and cut-to-eat steak. This means you can order it soft, medium or hard, the company said. Jerky, however, can be made from whole or minced meat, which is cut and then dehydrated or cooked on a rack, making for an overall drier product. Those distinctions have helped the company gain consumers.
Kalahari Biltong, a Massachusetts-based startup, said it marinates seasoned strips of beef, air-dries them for 18 days and then slices them. They also don't use the word "cooked," although the company called the result "a unique cross between jerky, slow-roasted beef, and finest Italian prosciutto."
Big food companies don't seem to be getting on the biltong bandwagon just yet, although investors have been showing interest in backing startups. Kalahari closed on a round of equity financing in 2017 led by the AccelFoods venture fund, while Texas-based Stryve Biltong raised $10 million last year from Meaningful Partners and the Murano Group to help build a production and distribution facility in Oklahoma and expand marketing efforts. Stryve also acquired biltong makers Braaitime and Biltong USA, so it's likely more biltong products in varying flavors and formats will be showing up on retail shelves. Kraft Heinz worked with biltong brand Ayoba-Yo as part of the first class in its Springboard incubator.
Given the growing popularity of biltong in the U.S., it seems that consumers are open to the fact that the product isn't actually cooked, but instead marinated and cured before being sliced and packaged. With the anticipated growth of the meat snack market and smaller brands working toward more education, biltong could be destined for a lot more expansion and more companies might be looking to launch meat snack lines.