Serial entrepreneur Brian Levin was on an assuming ski trip back in 2006 when a Red Bull spilled into his lunch bag — soaking his beef jerky in a concoction of caffeine, taurine, and sugar.
Chewing on the caffeinated jerky, Levin tasted what would become his next great idea: Perky Jerky.
Although the company would later drop the caffeine due to USDA regulations, Perky Jerky’s pivot to focusing on its proprietary process, distinct flavors, and unique texture have catapulted Levin’s novel idea into an enormously successful jerky brand that has rapidly expanded both in-stores and online.
The success of Perky Jerky is also owed to a lean team that can move faster than their big-name competition, enabling them to take risks and expand into new locations using an aggressive omnichannel model.
Being present both in major retailers like Walmart and in online channels like Amazon have enabled the Levin and his team of jerks (their word, not mine) to reach customers almost anywhere and everywhere.
Here’s a look at Perky Jerky and its ingredients for successfully shaking up a niche CPG industry.
Protein-packed Snacks, With A Twist
With flavors like “Brewmaster’s Pale Ale Turkey” and “Heavenly Jalapeno,” Perky Jerky has carved out a name for itself as the jerky brand that is willing to take risks and push boundaries.
“This is not your grandfather’s jerky. Each batch is truly handcrafted. It takes time and an overnight marinade to achieve our unique texture and flavors.”
-Patrick Bernard, Director of mEatCommerce
Since dropping the caffeinated ingredients back in 2015, the brand has focused on improving their proprietary process, ingredients, and diverse offering of flavors to differentiate themselves in a crowded market.
The USDA regulation turned out to be a blessing in disguise; moving beyond caffeine enabled Perky Jerky to appeal to a much larger market.
One of the advantages of Perky Jerky’s smaller team is the ability to pivot and develop new flavors in months, rather than years.
“All of the flavors are developed in-house. Everything from the taste to the ingredients, to what we think will make that product truly unique — it’s all part of our internal process.”
“We look at what’s trending in the industry and decide what to go after next. We just launched our Chimichurri and Sea Salt and Pepper flavors of Wagyu Beef Jerky because we know that our customers are interested in these flavor profiles.”
All-natural And Ethically-sourced Ingredients
Another value prop is the brand’s all-natural ingredients and emphasis on ethically-sourced meat ingredients.
“Our proteins are raised the right way,” says Bernard.
“We buy only 100% grass-fed beef, cage and crowding-free poultry; we go the whole nine yards to protect the quality of life of our animals.”
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An Omnichannel Model That Focuses On Retail Relationships
Perky Jerky’s team knew that to compete with big-name competitors like Oberto and Jack Link’s, they would need to build their brand recognition both in-store and online.
But how do you go from having no distribution relationships to stocking and selling your products in the nation’s largest retail stores?
According to Bernard: hard work, a grueling schedule, and a love for what you do.
“Retail has been the primary focus for the majority of our existence,” explains Bernard.
“Our small team of four, including Brian himself, have been on the grind for nine years; hitting four states in a five-day workweek for meetings with our retailers.”
“These guys have real relationships with their retail buyers, and have earned a substantial footprint in almost every major retailer in the US.”
Today Perky Jerky can be found in Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, The Home Depot, and CVS.
“Retailers have helped us gain brand awareness in a very organic way,” says Bernard.
“Digital marketing helps us build on that awareness by making them notice us on the shelf when they’re grocery shopping. Or by buying directly online.”
Leveraging Digital Channels & Paid Media
Although their focus originated on retail distribution relationships, Levin and his team knew they would need digital advertising to reach customers that they couldn’t reach in-store.
“The way people shop is changing,” says Bernard. “Those who fail to change are doomed to wither on the vine.”
With the founding of two successful technology companies under his belt, Levin is no stranger to the growing power of technology, data, and digital channels in retail.
“Brian and the team made substantial investments into the digital space to ensure that we meet our customers wherever they’re shopping — especially online.”
“Our digital machine is a cash-positive marketing vehicle that will serve up 93mm impressions and hundreds of thousands of clicks to our site and Amazon next year. It is the most effective and efficient use of marketing dollars.”
How Perky Jerky Leverages Paid Advertising Google, Facebook, and Amazon
While building awareness through organic means is important, Bernard notes that paid advertising is “the only way to force yourself in front of people.”
Google Search Marketing
“Search and shopping engines have become too smart, make too much money, and display so much advertising that it’s nearly impossible to succeed without paying to play.”
Bernard explains that long gone are the days of organic SEO elevating your brand to the top of the Google SERP for lucrative keywords that other companies are paying for.
That’s why Perky Jerky leverages paid ads to rank for related unbranded and branded keywords to drive valuable traffic to their website.
“This space is highly competitive for jerky brands and we are forced to focus on niche terms like ‘turkey jerky’ instead of ‘jerky’ or ‘beef jerky’ as we both have a right to win here, and it is more cost effective.”
“Amazon allows us to meet customers when they are in mind to buy,” says Bernard.
“Our AMS spend allows us to match the most relevant products to the most relevant searches. We can interrupt someone in their purchase process and perhaps get them to try us, instead of someone else.”
Facebook & Instagram Advertising
“Social allows us to prospect like no other. We can reach dozens of audiences simultaneously with messaging unique to that audience,” says Bernard.
“We have had great success testing new messaging and creative to meet new consumers, and bring traffic to our site.”
Video Advertising On Facebook And Instagram
Perky Jerky has also seen great results by shooting video exclusively for Facebook and Instagram campaigns.
“We leverage video exclusively to acquire customers,” says Bernard.
“We’ve put out over 20 different videos targeting up to 30 different audiences. We use targeted messaging and humorous copy to appeal each audience.”
“We collect data from each campaign and use it to inform our next move. We have lots of data that shows that video can increase our engagement up to 4x, and our CPAs are fantastic.”
A Bold Content Strategy, With Some Humor Peppered In
Much like their flavors, Perky Jerky also pushes the limits when it comes to brand voice.
Across their website and social media, you can find lighthearted and often humorous messaging, a reminder that the brand wants customers to enjoy themselves.
“The brand is meant to speak to consumers in their own vernacular,” says Bernard.
“The voice is the embodiment of Brian himself. We are willing to take risks and do whatever it takes to get something accomplished. And we are willing to laugh at ourselves from time to time.”
A Changing CPG Consumer Landscape
The digital revolution has enabled smaller, data-driven brands like Perky Jerky to rise up and challenge traditional CPG giants that still use traditional retail models and have been slow to adapt to customer preferences in today’s digital world.
“The landscape has changed,” says Bernard.
“More and more customers are looking to brands they can trust, rather than to soulless, heartless big box stores that are only concerned with profits.”
“We have an opportunity as a disruptive brand to interact with customers directly. This is so incredibly valuable and how you earn a lifelong customer, rather than a casual consumer.“
A Level Of Convenience That Big CPG Brands Struggle To Offer
Another unique value prop of Perky Jerky and direct brands is that they offer more convenience to customers by making online shopping simple and making the customer feel valued.
“We are selling convenience,” explains Bernard. “At your desk, in 5 minutes, you can order the best jerky on the planet and have it delivered to your door.”
“We also have the customer service team in place to stand behind the product and support the consumer in every way possible.”
Not only can brands like Perky Jerky offer more personalized customer service, the nature of their small teams means that they can move faster than larger, more traditional brands.
“Our ability to move fast means we can add new features, offers, and products to our site and Amazon in real time. We can always be on the cutting edge and meet consumers where they want to be met, even if that’s Tinder.”
“For example, we came up with the Wagyu Beef idea in February, tested it in March, and had it on shelves by October. That’s a two-year development cycle for a larger corporation.”
Consumers Demand Great Products, Authenticity, And An Experience
Perky Jerky also happens to be on the right side of today’s biggest CPG industry trends.
There are many, but for Perky Jerky they boil down to three main areas: top-notch products, authenticity, and a real experience.
“Today’s successful CPG companies make authentic connections with customers — and there is no better way to do this outside of direct-to-consumer selling,” explains Bernard.
“By going direct, you can educate, answer questions, and follow up with them about their experience.”
Perky Jerky’s digital channels also mean that their team can collect data that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to in-store.
Advice for Aspiring Brands
Patrick Bernard offers the following advice that has helped him and his team at Perky Jerky find success:
1. Listen To Your Data
“Listen to your data. DO NOT make a decision based off the feedback you received from one Facebook user who says they make better jerky at home. Understand what your data means to decisions in your business. Understand your ad data.”
2. Always Be Optimizing
“Always be optimizing and never settle. If you hit your goals, set new ones right away. Being asleep at the wheel is a good way to get lapped. As soon as your competitor figures out what you did, they will do it better and you will be done.”
3. Fail Fast and Learn Fast
“If it doesn’t work, kill it. Kill it fast. Do not hope a failed campaign is going to work because you invested time or money into it. Fail fast, and learn something from your failure.”
What’s Next For Perky Jerky
Here’s what Bernard and his team are most looking forward to in the coming quarter.
New Products And Protein Pals
“We have just launched our Wagyu line of beef jerky, which comes from specific breeds of Japanese cattle. We are really excited for our customers to get a chance to taste this remarkable type of beef.”
“We are also launching Protein Pals: a 3-compartment on-the-go snack. It includes an all-natural protein, fruit, and a grain. Perfect for our audience!”
An Evolving Social Media Strategy
Bernard is also in the midst of launching a new marketing campaign featuring 100% user-generated content.
“We are really excited to launch a new social media marketing campaign featuring entirely user-generated content from our fans and micro-influencers using Perky Jerky products,” says Bernard.
What’s even better is that Bernard and his team can attract authentic ambassadors because they’re being paid in product, rather than dollars.
“All of our hard work has enabled us to build an operationally efficient business. It’s incredibly complex to integrate everything from your warehouses to inventory systems, to your website and ecommerce channels,” says Bernard.
“With everything in place, my data capabilities are now enormous.”
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