“We experienced a phenomenal 140% growth in 2017, and we are going to go full blast this year,” said Kang, stating Country Archer gained 10,000 distribution points last year alone.
“I don’t think there are many headwinds for my business as the need for portable protein is still on the rise.”
"There is a huge white space in both conventional and convenience stores for gourmet jerky."
As a child of immigrants who own a c-store in Southern California, Kang said he grew up seeing mass-produced brands like Jack Links on the shelves.
“C-stores usually lag behind the gourmet channel. Back when I was kid, they clearly didn’t understand the dynamic of the [premium meat snacks] category,” he said.
The birth of Country Archer
Country Archer was founded in 2011 after Kang and his business partner stumbled upon a vendor selling handcrafted jerky produced by an 80-year-old Italian butcher.
What caught Kang’s attention was the fact that the jerky was made without preservatives – a trait that was not pervasive in the meat snacks landscape back then.
“In 2011, we bought the IP rights and learned the in-and-outs of how to make the products,” said Kang.
“Eventually, we created the brand in 2013 with new packaging.”
Today, the company produces a variety of beef and turkey jerky in its 30,000-square foot facility in Southern California, predominantly for the natural channel in the US - including Sprouts.
“Our main line may not be 100% organic, but our sugar and soy sauce are non-GMO verified. We are trying to scale up to organic where we can.”
Kang said conventional retailers only make up a small percentage of Country Archer's distribution, but noted there is a huge white space in both conventional and convenience stores for gourmet jerky.
“That is where we are marching towards in the coming years,” he said.
Staying ahead of the game
With more premium meat snack brands taking up shelf space, Kang said Country Archer is trying to stay ahead of the growth curve through innovation.
“We want to make sure to not launch another ‘me too’ product,” he said, noting Country Archer is one of the few producers in the market to produce meat stick with zero sugar.
“Our competitors use some form of sugar, like honey.”
The company also has several items in the development pipeline that will be unveiled later this year.
Regarding acqusition, Kang said he would not reject the idea, although the brand is not actively seeking one.
“The Conagra-Thanasi and Hershey-Krave deals clearly show big companies are looking at this category as a growth engine,” he said.
"As those businesses are not [players] in the meat snacks category, [the acqusitions have helped] them expand their portfolios and incorporate healthy snacks into their mix.”