The popularity of beef jerky is on the rise.
At more than $1 billion in sales in 2017, beef jerky is just entering the growth phase of its life cycle.
According to research from Technavio, global meat snack sales could hit $9.47 billion by 2021, which would be a 9.4% compound annual growth rate. Roughly half of global meat snack sales are jerky products.
All this growth means one thing — jerky producers, especially smaller companies, are looking for ways to optimize their operation, increase production, and take some of the market shares.
Poor Slicing = Poor Profits
One of the areas jerky producers need to optimize in order to scale up production is slicing.
Next to cooking, slicing chunks of beef into jerky size strips takes the most time and money. Depending on the size of jerky processor, you’ll likely find a few methods for slicing beef jerky.
Slicing by Hand
Most smaller processors are still slicing beef jerky by hand — using nothing more than a knife and cutting board.
For the start-up beef jerky processor operating out of their house, this is likely the best option. It’s the least expensive option (a good knife and cutting board are relatively cheap) and the easiest to start implementing to get your jerky product out there.
Slicing by hand does have its downsides, especially if you’re looking to increase production:
- Inconsistent slices. It’s near impossible to get the exact same thickness on every slice. It’s usually not an issue for home-made or small processors, but when scaling up your production, inconsistencies will cause issues with your customers.
- Slowest slicing style. Slicing by hand takes time and significant effort — something you want to trim down if you’re looking to increase production.
- Highest risk of injury. Even beyond the obvious risk of cutting yourself, slicing by hand poses other serious risks, such as musculoskeletal disorders from awkward angles, repeated motions, and overexertion of the wrist.
- Highest operating cost. While a knife and cutting board are inexpensive, the operating cost of slicing by hand is the highest — scaling up production requires more people slicing, increasing labor expenses.
Slicing with a Modified Cutting Board
In order to combat some of the disadvantages of slicing by hand, some jerky processors have opted to use a modified cutting board.
Designed with rails to keep the knife at the same thickness when slicing through the chunk of beef, a modified cutting board helps keep jerky slices consistent.
While this style of cutting board solves the inconsistent slice issue that happens when cutting by hand, it still shares a lot of the same disadvantages:
- Slow slicing. You can see in the gif how much time is required to make just one slice — something you won’t be able to keep up with increased production.
- High risk of injury. The angle of the operator’s wrist is a risk factor for developing musculoskeletal disorders. With increased production, an injury is very likely to occur.
- High operating cost. Just like cutting by hand, the operating cost is incredibly high — scaling up production requires more people slicing, increasing labor expenses.
Slicing with a Deli Style Slicer
The next step most processors take in optimizing their beef jerky slicing is by investing in a deli-style slicer.
A deli-style slicer solves a lot of the disadvantages of the other two slicing styles — one operator can slice more in less time, slices are consistent, lowered risk of injury and operating costs as the machine does the majority of the work.
While this method of slicing is great for small processors operating out of their homes, when it comes time to grow your business and increase production, deli slicers have disadvantages as well:
- Limited slicing capabilities. While you can slice more with a deli slicer than by hand, you are still limited to how quickly an operator can slice the beef. Turning the chunk of beef, moving sliced pieces, loading and unloading product all takes time.
- Cost vs reliability of equipment. Industrial deli slicers needed for increased production are expensive — some base models go for over $12,000. Cheaper models, like seen in the gif, are more cost-effective but aren’t designed for the continuous use that would be needed when increasing production — meaning they are likely to break down frequently from overuse.
- Risk of injury. Any time you have an exposed blade, there is the risk of severe operator injury. It only takes a second for a severe cut or amputation to occur, and bleed out can happen in 3 minutes or less.
Any beef jerky slicing process that requires intense labor will eventually eat away at profits.
The more people you need to hire to scale up production, the more costs you will incur, including:
- Vacation and sick time
- Injuries and lost time
- Training and onboarding
- Decreased pace when bringing a new person on
- Human error
According to research done by The Boyd Company, the weighted average hourly earnings of general help / cutting workers in food processing range from $15.74 to $19.05. Assuming an 8-hour shift, that’s $125.92 to $152.40 per day.
As you scale up beef jerky production, the number of people you need to slice jerky increases.
Eventually, cutting by hand, using a modified cutting board, or a deli slicer will become too costly.
Slicing Costs, Literally
Labor is one of the largest expenses when it comes to beef jerky production, and reducing the amount of labor needed to slice jerky will save you immensely.
Take a circular blade jerky slicer for example.
One of these machines ranges anywhere from $8-50,000, depending on the style and manufacturer, and is capable of slicing 2,000+ pounds of beef per hour.
Let’s just say you get a smaller model that handles up to 2,000 lbs per hour.
Over an 8 hour shift, that’s roughly 16,000 pounds of beef per day.
For number’s sake, let’s say an employee can slice up to 10 pounds of beef per hour by hand or with a modified cutting board — a high estimate given the time needed to align the beef, slice, move slices away and finish up.
That’s 80 pounds of beef sliced per 8-hour shift, not accounting for slow down due to tiredness or mistakes.
If we assume there are 261 working days in 2019, taking weekends and holidays off, the daily cost of a jerky slicer ranges from $31 to $46 per day.
For example, a unit costing $12,000 or costing $50,000 is cheaper per day than paying for 1 person at $15.74 per hour — and can slice 200 times or more as much beef jerky in that day than an employee can cut by hand.
A circular blade jerky slicer not only slices jerky but operating costs as well — good news for meat processors in areas where the minimum wage is on the rise.
Advantages of Jerky Slicers
Jerky slicers have a number of other advantages over cutting operating costs, including:
- Safer. Enclosed blades and safety paddle wheels keep operator hands away from any moving parts, greatly reducing the risk of cuts or amputations.
- Greater output. One small jerky slicer can slice up to 2,000 pounds per hour — numbers you can’t get cutting by hand or with a deli slicer.
- Economical. Whether buying a $12,000 model or a $50,000 model, you’re still saving money over hiring someone to slice for you.
- Consistent slices. Each slice thickness is exactly the same as the next.
- Faster. Simply drop the meat into the machine and within seconds, it’s perfectly sliced and ready to cook.
Invest in Growth
When scaling up your beef jerky production, investing in a jerky slicer is a wise — and money-saving! — choice.
We encourage you to do the math:
- How many pounds of beef are your employees cutting by hand or with hand-operated cutting equipment per day?
- How much are you paying in labor for jerky slicing?
- Is minimum wage going up any time soon, increasing your labor expenses?
Compare those answers to the benefits of a beef jerky slicer:
- 16,000 pounds in an 8-hour shift
- $8-$50,000k price tag
- 1 operator per machine
Chances are, you will save quite a bit of money upgrading your beef jerky slicing operation with a batch-style jerky slicer.