Quick snacks, lasting business

Enterprise: Riverina Jerky

What they offer: An award-winning premium beef snack made by a company whose owner and director is the only woman producing commercial jerky in Australia.

In 2009, Lisa Cohen and her family went on holiday to America, and on that trip her husband, Steven, became addicted to beef jerky. “Upon returning home, we were unable to find a brand that he liked – it was either rubbish full of sugar and preservatives, or it had no flavour,” Lisa explains. So, despite being a vegetarian herself, she started experimenting with making beef jerky at home.

With a demanding job as an accountant, she didn’t take the trial any further for a few years, but in 2012 Lisa had another child and found herself at home looking for something to do. She began to experiment again with making jerky, getting rave reviews from friends with whom she shared her products. Within a few months, she was supplying the local pub, where the jerky was a big hit, and instead of returning to her old job, Lisa made Riverina Jerky her full-time occupation, with Steven also giving up his job to concentrate on the venture. Within six months they were making four different flavours of jerky and had won their first award for it.

“I firmly believe you have to use the best quality ingredients if you want to get the best outcome.”

At the time, the couple lived in a remote location, which was a big challenge for Lisa, with supplies she ordered taking over a week to reach her, and the same delays occurring with her finished product when trying to meet orders. So, the family moved to the outskirts of Albury, putting them on the main route between Sydney and Melbourne and cutting the time it took to receive supplies and make deliveries down to a day or two. Without their previous regular incomes or a financial backer, Lisa and Steven built the business organically, starting small and scaling up on the back of the revenue.

Logistics and growth capital were not the biggest challenges Lisa faced, however. “I’m a woman in a man’s world,” she explains, “and the only female commercially producing jerky in this country.”

Feeling like only a ‘temporary card-holder’ in the jerky-making fraternity, Lisa joined Females in Food for support and mentorship. “They’re proud of being females, they’re proud of being producers and they’re proud of my product,” Lisa avers.

Lisa firmly believes that it is what she doesn’t put in her jerky that makes her product stand out, and why it wins awards. “We don’t add artificial colours, preservatives or nitrates,” she explains. “And of the 13 flavours of jerky we now make, only two have sugar added to them – very small amounts – the other 11 just contain natural sugars or honey.” Lisa and Steven only use 100 per cent grass-fed beef that they source from Gippsland in Victoria. “We’re already using award-winning beef before we’ve even started,” she says. “I firmly believe you have to use the best quality ingredients if you want to get the best outcome. The old saying that you get what you pay for rings true – good quality ingredients going into our jerky is what gives us a good quality finished product.”

Eschewing the perceived wisdom that you need to be on the shelves of major supermarkets to say that you have succeeded, Lisa focuses on supplying independent grocers and delis where she feels her product has the opportunity to stand out. Based on recent research revealing that the meat snack industry is growing at 34 per cent, Lisa and Steven see plenty of growth potential as a premium, healthy brand and are happy not to see their product sitting on supermarket shelves next to mass-produced brands made with cheaper, less healthy ingredients.

“I’ve got the product that the public wants,” Lisa says, adding that events such as Melbourne’s recent Foodservice Australia exhibition are invaluable in terms of networking and exploring ways to take the brand forward.

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine