In the second of the series, The Baze Buzz: Conversations with Leaders in the Nutrition & Wellness Industry, Georgina Whalen of Baze interviews Brian Bianchetti, Fourth Generation from People’s Choice Beef Jerky on the personal story behind their family-owned business, what sets the company apart from the sustainable beef and health snack industries, and the future of the Baze and People’s Choice Beef Jerky partnership. The following is a condensed transcript of their conversation.
Georgina: Tell us a little bit about your background and the story behind People’s Choice Beef Jerky.
Brian: Absolutely, so, the best place to start with our story is probably at the beginning, and for us, that takes us back to 1929 when my great-grandfather started the company People’s Choice Beef Jerky in downtown Los Angeles. The business has been passed down from generation to generation, and today we are one of the foremost manufacturers of artisan quality beef jerky. We make a variety of styles, a variety of flavors, but we really focus on high-quality ingredients and a simple handmade process that ends up creating a very traditional and real, authentic beef jerky.
Georgina: Excellent. What do you feel is your largest differentiator in the beef jerky and healthy snack industry?
Brian: There’s an incredible amount of competition within the jerky space; there’s a lot of new entrants into the market, there’s a lot of companies like us that have been around for a long time, but for us, what makes us different, really connects back to our heritage and our tradition and the fact that we’re a family business. We have a high level of attention to detail, and we like to focus on the things that we feel are important when it comes to making a high-quality beef jerky, and that relates back to those high-quality ingredients, a simple handmade process, and the end result tends to be what we would think of as a better quality, better for you beef jerky.
Georgina: Excellent, and obviously our team agrees. We are interested, on the marketing side, in how you’ve attracted customers and really grown your company from the very start, or how your grandfather started things, and now, how you’ve adapted to continue that growth.
Brian: We, in a lot of ways, have been lucky because a lot of our success has come from the fact that we have a really great product, and that we have complete control over it. What I mean by that is at every stage in the family business, each generation has impacted the business differently. But throughout all those generations and all that time, the way that we do things has remained the same. So, that high quality-product has really driven a lot of word of mouth growth – we have a very loyal and active customer base that is happy to talk about us. So, a lot of our growth has come organically through word of mouth. So, our job as marketers today with our business is really allowing our customers to tell that story for us, and having them part of that process. I think it connects back to our attention to detail, connects back to the product that we make, and also connects back to the relationship that we have with our customers. So, for us as far as acquiring new customers, it really connects back to the existing relationship with our current customers and using them for the vehicle for growth.
Georgina: I love that, that’s very powerful. You speak a lot about your customers, and really the long history you’ve had, and the loyalty they’ve shown. I’m interested in how you feel the company is driving true impact for them.
Brian: Yeah, again, to connect back to the same theme, I think we keep a really close eye on our customers, and we listen to what they want. We ourselves are consumers as well, and we’re consumers of our own product, so we make a product that we want to eat every day, and a product that we think our customers want to eat. And that all connects back to living a healthy lifestyle, focusing on real ingredients, really simple processing, and focusing on real, whole, foods. So, we take that approach to our manufacturing, to our product development, and to the products that we offer our customers.
One thing that’s unique about our company is we have a test kitchen program, so we’re always testing out new recipes, new flavors, and we encourage our customers to participate in that process. We ask them to give us feedback – things that they like, things that they don’t like. That not only makes them feel a part of the process, but it also creates a pipeline for new business, so when we have these new products available, we have a customer base to sell to. For us, it’s a matter of listening to our customers, figuring out what they really want, and then finding ways that we can uniquely deliver on that.
Georgina: Wonderful, it’s always great, I do feel that there’s a wealth of information if we just keep our ears open, absolutely. So, within the small business and kind of start-up scene, what do you feel some business may be getting wrong about marketing in general, as you’ve taken a more organic approach?
Brian: One of the interesting things about marketing for small businesses and startups in today’s environment is there are so many tools available and there are so many channels, so many tactics available, and they feel like they’re constantly changing – with new ones coming in and old ones going out. So, I feel at times it can be overwhelming for a startup or a new business because they’re trying all these new things. And for us, the way that we approach it, again, is understanding our brand and understanding our company and what our unique differentiator is, and then also understanding our customer and finding the best way to deliver that brand and that message and that product to those customers. So, I think it really comes down to listening to your customers, again, and trying to figure out how they want to hear from you, how they want to interact with you – and that could be different for every company and every brand. To a certain extent, you have to test and you have to find what works, but when you do find those channels and those connections, it’s important to really use those to their fullest capability.
Georgina: That’s excellent advice. I think far too often there’s a new, shiny tool coming out that we’re always tempted to try and see how it’s going to provide us some benefits, when one of the most important things is the most basic. So as far as trends within the nutrition and wellness industry, what trends have you seen within the last five years that perhaps you’ve adapted to, or maybe not?
Brian: We’ve definitely been able to take advantage of a lot of health and diet trends that have been going on over the past five, six years. I think for us, being in the protein space, it really connects back to early Atkins and low-carb, and then paleo and those are all iterations on the same high-protein, low-carb approach. We have a few sugar-free varieties which do really well with these audiences and with these demographics, and the irony is we have always had these products, since our founding in 1929, we’ve always made a style of jerky that doesn’t use a lot of sugar, and in fact, has no sugar in it. So, we saw a lot of adoption by a lot of these people in the very beginning and a lot of that growth happened organically, and then when keto came on the scene, where it was very challenging for people who did keto to find sugar-free options, we did incredibly well.
So we’ve definitely been able to ride that wave and slightly reposition our product from an old-fashioned style sugar-free jerky to a really great keto snack. So, we’ve had a lot of success with that, and I think we’ll see that trend continue, I think keto is on the rise, if not already arrived. But then also, as an evolution of that, eating whole foods; I think whole, simply processed, simple ingredient foods, are going to be what people are trying to focus on. So I think for us, one of the challenges will be that jerky has this perception of this unhealthy, preservative-filled gas station snack, which it has been for a while, but there’s a lot of companies out there, ours being one of them, that make a traditional style jerky that doesn’t use any of those preservatives, doesn’t use any of those artificial ingredients, uses simple ingredients, uses a handmade process. So I think, for us, looking at this whole food movement, real food movement will be definitely something to focus on.
Georgina: It is incredible that you guys were doing something that’s just become incredibly popular, that’s pretty awesome.
Brian: Yeah, I’d like to take credit for it, but it was a bit of luck involved.
Georgina: Speaking about some of the successes that your company has had, we’d love to hear about what you feel is your “secret sauce” that has made you a leader in the health food industry.
Brian: It always goes back to our history for us, it goes back to that tradition. You know we have this foundation that my great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my dad who is still very involved in the business, have laid for the fourth generation. And so, we have these basic tenets, and this philosophy of how we approach the product that we make. And that will always be the same, those will never change, but what does change are the nuances within the ingredients, and the recipes, and the health benefits that people are looking for because that is always changing and so, for us, it’s a matter of understanding who we are, what we do best, and then just adapting it for a modern audience and for a modern shopping experience. So, our products might look a little bit different, our ingredient label might look a little bit different, our packaging will definitely look different, the way that we connect with consumers will change, but it’s finding that balance between knowing who we are as a company and what we bring to the market, with how to uniquely take that and serve it to customers, because that’s always changing. So, it’s that balance between staying true to who we are but also staying relevant in today’s world.
Georgina: Excellent, yeah vital, especially when you have such a loyal customer base. So, finding that balance is so important. In the news recently, it’s been kind of a growing trend as well, is the food as medicine movement, which we, as Baze, have talked about in-depth. What resources, or kind of podcasts, magazines do you read pretty to stay on top of nutrition news?
Brian: To answer it truthfully, I don’t really read any specific ones. What I would say though, speaking from my own personal experience with my family, for example, you know eating healthy food is such an integral part of our lives, so it’s part of the everyday conversation. First of all, we’re foodies and we love to cook, and we love trying new restaurants, so there’s that piece of it which is really important, but, I would attribute this to my mom, she’s the one that’s always influenced us to eat healthy and live healthy, and the importance of food as medicine. So, I think we all have our different sources of stuff that we read, but as a family, and really as a business, health and food is always part of that conversation. So, I would say, as kind of a cop-out answer, the conversations that we have as a family are really my source of new information and new trends to look out for.
Georgina: That’s wonderful – you know, no better place to get that information than from home. You talked a lot about new flavors and constant testing, and really listening to what people want. We’re interested to hear what your favorite jerky flavor is.
Brian: So, I like them all, to start with, but I’m a traditionalist when it comes to jerky. So, our old-fashioned original, which is the same recipe that dates back to the 1920s; it’s dry, it’s chewy, but it’s got that saltiness to it, and it allows the meat flavor to really come through. I really do like all of them, but if there’s one that I keep going back to, it’s definitely our old-fashioned style original.
Georgina: Excellent! At Baze we’re all about all kinds of whole, healthy foods that provide micronutrients to help people correct those imbalances and deficiencies, and obviously, we featured People’s Choice in our Food Guide early on, as we saw multiple benefits in it. How do you feel Baze aligns with your vision and mission.
Brian: When Baze approached us with this partnership and part of it having conversations about this, we were really happy to see how close we are aligned. You know, I think the concept of food as medicine is very powerful, and it’s something that we’ll see grow in power and awareness. So those efforts that Baze is taking I think are fantastic, and to a certain extent, we take that same approach. You know, we think eating healthy, simple foods has a direct relationship with being healthy. And so, finding a company like you who is so focused on that, it definitely mirrors what we are doing and the approach that we take because, as I mentioned before, we’re also consumers of our product and we eat quite a bit of it, so it’s important to us that we like our product, and also that it will help us live that healthy lifestyle that we’re looking for. So, in many ways, I think the philosophy that Baze has, and sort of the business model, is definitely correlated with the approach that we take with our recipe development, product development, and the products that we have.
Georgina: Glad to hear it! One last question and then I’ll let you go. As far as healthy eating, subscribing to the food as medicine kind of movement, do you have an essential, healing food or ingredient beyond jerky that you see as essential?
Brian: Well maybe it goes hand-in-hand with jerky, and I know this might sound like sort of a silly answer, but I think water for me. My family and my coworkers make fun of me all day because I drink so much water, but I find that I feel better when I drink a lot of water, when I’m well hydrated, and so, yeah, I think honestly for me drinking water, it’s definitely my healthy, go-to thing that I do all day, everyday.
Georgina: I’d have to agree, absolutely! Brian, it was so wonderful chatting with you, we appreciate your time a great deal, so thank you.
Brian: Thank you. We appreciate the opportunity and love talking with like-minded people.