Artisan of the Month - Bootleg Jerky

January 11 2022 – Georgie Foot

Artisan of the Month - Bootleg Jerky
Artisan of the Month - Bootleg Jerky

It was three years ago. A right place, right time, type of moment. Ash was on a big American road trip, walks into this unassuming Californian Jerky factory and purchases 20 bags-full of unique jerky flavours. Upon returning home and discovering there was nothing comparable in Aotearoa, Ash set to work on the business we now know and love, Bootleg Jerky.

 Ash was adamant that the business needed a point of difference and it needed to be premium. No corners cut. But like all new business owners, Ash was faced with many challenges, proclaiming “I can’t be bothered, I’m gonna bootleg it”. And just like that, the Bootleg brand was born. Over a couple of beers, the characters and flavours carefully crafted.

 How did the idea come about for Bootleg Jerky?

Once I was back in NZ, I couldn’t’ find any locally made jerky, like the Baker Cali stuff. So I got on youtube, mucked around. At poker nights with mates, I would test out my flavours, gathering all the feedback - good and bad. I looked into starting it as a little business on the side with my brother. I was in charge of production and my brother did the branding and website.

 So Ash, what’s your background? How did you land up in Jerky Production?

I came from sales and marketing, absolutely no food experience. I couldn’t fry an egg. But I saw potential with sales and customer engagement with a unique product. 

 What’s the difference between Jerky and Biltong?

It all comes down to how it’s processed. Both are air dried strips of meat. Biltong is bigger sale of meat that’s hung out to dry and then cut into small strips. Traditionally coated with coriander and other spices.  Jerky is sliced into thinner pieces, marinated for 48hrs, dried at high temps of 60-70 degrees for approx 10 hours. And it doesn’t need as much salt. 

 What’s been the winner for you?

The beef is the best beef you can get. And we’ve been transparent. We put all information on the back of the products. Nothing artificial. No MSG.

People have found a product they used to eat as a junk food - but this is the real deal with no nasties. And so people are willing to pay bit more of a premium for a product they know what they’re getting. We’re in a time of conscious consumers - and Bootleg are on this train.

 What’s been the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome as an artisan business?

We started out in a garage with a team of three. Then they had a baby in the middle of that. And then the day we got the keys for the new factory, we went into lockdown. There was two containers of equipment, now with no home. Then we started the building process on the new factory. And all of our mates came through to help with the building and plumbing etc etc. But we battling to keep production going, with a baby, while building a new factory. The roof was leaking and the place flooded twice. Electrics were a nightmare! First batch of jerky in the new factory was a nightmare, and we had to chuck majority of it out. So trying to work out the new gear has been the biggest challenge. But we’re just coming out the other side of it now. 

 How big is the team now?

A team of 5, looking to grow in the next few months. It’s a very family run business. 

 Were you always entrepreneurial? What made you want to move away from 9-5?

To begin with we were contract manufacturing the jerky. But the problem with that is they don’t care about the product at all, they just want to get paid at the end of the day. About a year into it, once we started getting more traction I took on production myself, moving the factory into my garage. My business partner Chris was a bit skeptical, moving from a well paid sales job. But he took the plunge. And with a bit more money and bigger machinery we’ve managed. Myself and the team have designed everything ourselves. The machinery/ packaging has all been designed to work for Bootleg, not the other way around.

 Where do you think the NZ food industry is going? 

Everyone is so conscious of what they’re eating. Bootleg was on that journey to start with which has been to our advantage. Meatless options, could be a potential shift. But there’s always going to be a place for meat products and especially healthy meat snacks. With Covid, more people are supporting local brands. So people are happy to spend a bit more on a premium product, with high quality ingredients. 

 What are the future plans, 3-5 years?

We want to keep making good quality products. Collaborations with other artisan, and we want to do more flavours that are unique. We want to do a horopito one, we’ve got a mushroom one we’re working on (no other hints sorry). Our main focus is getting into super chains, now that we have production capability. Also going to food shows and just getting meat into peoples mouths! 

 What best ways to use the jerky? 

It’s fit for purpose and it’s multi purpose. Hunters, tramping ( great as it’s got a zip on the bag). It’s perfect with a beer after work, or in lunch boxes. It’s a good protein source!

 Who are some of your fav NZ based artisans? 

I love a story of starting in the garage, the small battlers. There’s so many but to name a few: Rum and Q / K-Pow hot sauce / Dookie dough Collective / Gathered Game

Is there any advice for any budding artisans? 

I don’t feel qualified to give advice. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. It might feel like you’re slogging everyday - but it's worth it. You chuck yourself in the deep end and you just work it out. Make sure you pace yourself. There’s so much small stuff you sweat in the early days. We went through 4 business card designs, changing copy on the website and realised no one cares about that stuff. Just focus on making a good product and getting it out to people.