Jerky Week, Part 5: Big Jerky Speaks

Can David topple Goliath? Join us as we talk with Slim Jim's brand manager in this shocking conclusion to Fast Company's weeklong investigation into the hotly contested, high-stakes, often spicy business of beef jerky.

For the past week, Fast Company has taken a look at four beef jerky startups that are disrupting the meat snacks space. How does the emblem of Big Jerky, Slim Jim, feel about all this? In this, our conclusion to Jerky Week, we catch up with Slim Jim’s brand manager, Daniel Marple, to find out.

FAST COMPANY: You’re the Goliath to the many Davids I’ve interviewed this week. Do you feel scared, or threatened?

DANIEL MARPLE: I don’t know if scared or threatened is the right word. We respect the regional players in the market. As with any business, competition is good: It keeps us on our toes and challenges us to develop new products, marketing campaigns, and the like. We’ve been around a long time, and have developed expertise in the meat snacks category as a whole. We’ve learned to trust that knowledge and to have great researchers and product developers on board to help us stay ahead of the pack.

Slim Jim is branded in my mind with Hulk Hogan, but a reader actually pointed out earlier in the week that it was Randy Savage who famously urged snapping into your product. How has Slim Jim’s branding strategy shifted?

We’ve changed quite a bit since the “Macho Man” Randy Savage days. Our “man medicine” campaign launched last summer. It’s a way of talking about guys being guys. As guys get older, there are more pressures in life, and they have trouble doing the things guys love to do, like playing video games, getting into sports pools with buddies. We call this “suffering Male Spice Loss.” For guys in their teens and early 20s, Slim Jim is there to help them ensure their Menergy levels are optimal, so they can do important things like watch ninja movies or improve their video game aptitude and zombie-fighting skills. Slim Jim is one of these brands that reminds you to be a guy.

Is “Male Spice” directly correlated to testosterone?

Yes.

I take yoga classes, which your site lists as a symptom of extreme Spice Loss.

You should probably eat a Monster Stick sooner rather than later.

Your job must have great perks. I bet you’re swimming in jerky.

My spice levels are pretty high, I’ll say that.

Do women eat Slim Jim?

Absolutely. They’re an important consumer base for us, representing a third of our overall eatings. In fact, on Twitter, we have a Ladies’ Night, where women can talk about their passion for the brand as well.

You’ve talked about the evolution of the brand. How has the product itself evolved?

Innovation is one of the areas I lead on the team. We recently put out something called Steakhouse Strips. We know that steak is a real passion point with consumers—they often talk about that as the “ultimate man food” and the like—so we wanted to come out with a jerky more indicative of steak. A lot of jerky out there, some of it resembles leather on the sole of a shoe more than steak. Our steakhouse line is more moist, tender, and flavorful. We launched two skews in January, Smokin’ Mesquite and Carne Asada, and we’re pleased with what we’re seeing in markets so far.

I’ve learned this week that there’s a lot of growth in jerky.

Snacking as a category is growing enormously, and meat snacks within snacking is one of the fastest-growing segments within total snacks. So there’s a lot of activity here. Jerky as it stands right now is the fastest-growing category. Wait a second here, let me get the numbers on the latest 52 weeks... Actually, it’s the second fastest-growing category, I’m sorry. I forgot about corn nuts.

So you're saying next year we should have a Corn Nuts Week?

Yes. That’s the fastest-growing category in the Food, Drug, Mass segment. But in convenience stores, meat snacks are the fastest-growing category. For the last 52 weeks, it’s growing at 15%. Not a lot of food categories grow at 15%.

Why the explosive growth?

Three reasons. First, as people continue to eat on the road, they don’t necessarily have time for home-prepared meals. Second, the convenience channel as a whole is growing. Thirdly, there’s just a lot of innovation in this category in the last three to five years. We’re really opening people up to a different flavor experience, a different textural experience.

I don't know if I should admit this. I’ve never had beef jerky. What’s it like?

There’s really just a wonderful, meaty, rip-and-tear spice experience. That’s one of the things we like to embody in all of our products. Jerky represents a bold, spicy snacking alternative. It’s just a really different snacking experience. You can grab some jerky in order to keep afloat the rest of the day: It’s one of those tide-me-over snacks.

So it’s sort of like a Luna Bar?

This interview has been condensed and edited. For more from the Fast Talk interview series, click here. Know someone who'd make a good Fast Talk subject? Mention it to David Zax.

 Thank you for reading Fast Company's Jerky Week 2012. For previous installments in the series, click here. To nominate this series for a Pulitzer Prize, click here.

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[Image: Flickr user darrelbirkett]

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