Insider Q&A: How to Run a 75-Year-Old Family Jerky Business

The challenges of keeping a family business afloat, why they only source U.S. meat, potential threats from emerging plant-based jerky and plans for National Jerky Day 2023.

Range Grassfed Beef Jerky from Cattaneo Bros.
Range Grassfed Beef Jerky from Cattaneo Bros.
Cattaneo Bros.

Every year on this day, the 12th of June, the nation comes together to celebrate one thing, the dried, salted meats lovingly known as jerky. Jerky descended from the Andes mountains thousands of years ago in modern-day Peru. The word "jerky" is derived from the Quechuan word ch'arkiwhich means "dried, salted meat."

To celebrate the occasion and learn a bit about the industry, I recently had a conversation with Katelyn Kaney, CEO of family-owned meat processor and food manufacturer Cattaneo Bros. Cattaneo has been in business for some 75 years and makes jerky and meat snacks "the old-fashioned way," by mixing fresh spices by hand to season beef that is slow-dried on steel rods in hot brick ovens. 

In this insider Q&A, Kaney discusses the challenges of keeping a family business afloat, why she sources meat exclusively from the U.S., potential threats from the emerging plant-based jerky category and the company's plans for National Jerky Day. 

David Mantey: Over the years, what have been the greatest challenges keeping the family-owned business successful? 

Katelyn Kaney: One of the biggest challenges has been accepting that growth takes time and that it's okay to take things slow and steady. Having a solid foundation before expanding means we never have to compromise our values when continuing our goal of creating high-quality, tasty snacks to support healthy lifestyles. In addition, with growth comes the need for increased labor, and finding quality employees to work in manufacturing has been a consistent challenge

Mantey: What equipment is crucial to your enterprise? 

Kaney: Much of our process is still done by hand, which makes our products unique. We're proud to produce our jerky the old-fashioned way, which includes using real smokers and hot brick ovens. We hang our beef jerky on stainless steel rods to dry. This equipment, in addition to what we do by hand, is crucial in achieving the taste and texture that makes Cattaneo Bros. Jerky so special.  

Mantey: How do you quality control the supply chain to make sure you maintain consistent product quality? 

Kaney: We're both a meat processor and food manufacturer, which allows us to control the quality of our products from farm to package. Every step of our process goes through quality control checkpoints to ensure that our product is consistently delicious. We also work closely to cultivate relationships with our beef and poultry ranchers, plus hand mix our spices daily from common kitchen staples to ensure the freshest seasonings. 

Handcut beef jerky from Cattaneo Bros.Handcut beef jerky from Cattaneo Bros.Cattaneo Bros.

Mantey: Why do you source your meat exclusively from the U.S.? 

Kaney: My family has a history in agriculture, and it's always been important to us to support American agriculture. Growing up, my parents were active in [Future Farmers of America] FFA and 4-H, and we all raised animals as 4-H projects. My father always valued knowing where our food came from, which is why we are proud to source 100% American beef and turkey, working mostly with smaller family businesses and ranchers. 

Mantey: What qualities do you look for in farming partners?

Kaney: We source from independent ranchers that are family owned and local whenever possible. We're not just buying meat to make jerky; we build relationships with our ranchers and value the thoughtful farming practices they bring to the table. Moreover, we want to support the future generations of ranching and agriculture in America.  

Mantey: How do you stand out in a competitive jerky landscape? 

Kaney: Cattaneo Bros. has been making jerky since 1947, and it's this history and commitment to tradition that makes us unique in this marketplace. Our handcrafted, small-batch beef jerky is, and always will be, cooked in real smokers, hung on rods, not screens, and dried low and slow in hot brick ovens. We use only high-quality, simple ingredients, like top-round beef and free-range turkey, and we proudly display these ingredients on the front of each package. Our jerky offers consumers a clean choice that's made with no fillers, no by-products, no MSG and, in many cases, no sugar.   

Mantey: How have consumer jerky tastes changed over the years? 

Kaney: People today are looking for healthier options that don't sacrifice the taste or texture that makes jerky such an enduring snack, and there is also a growing appreciation for artisan, small-batch offerings. From our 100% grass-fed, no-sugar jerky to our premium hand-cut, original and extra-thin cut jerkies, we are proud to offer meat snacks that provide real nutrition to fuel healthy lifestyles while delivering delicious, meat-forward, authentic jerky taste.     

Mantey: What are your thoughts on plant-based jerky products entering the marketplace? 

Kaney: I appreciate the plant-based options coming to market, but also feel there will always be a place for thoughtfully crafted products that deliver nutrition from real meat protein and support independent ranchers who prioritize animal welfare and sustainable practices. The agriculture industry is so important because, without farms and ranches, we have no food.

Mantey: Of your products, what's your personal favorite? 

Kaney: My personal favorite is our Range 100% Grassfed Beef Jerky in the Chipotle flavor. The lineup, which also includes Salt, Black Pepper, and Chile Cayenne, is one that I created to improve upon the great jerky we were already making. Range is unique in that it contains no added nitrites and no sugar. It's cut extra thin, so it's easy to eat. This is my go-to snack at home and on the road, plus it's one that I feel confident giving my own boys. Range is truly a clean choice, and my boys love the taste and tearing it like string cheese. The grass-fed and grass-finished beef we use is sourced exclusively from a local producer, SunFed Ranch in California. Knowing that the beef comes from American family ranches that care about their cattle, as well as the land, is very important to me and makes this line even more special.  

Extra thin cut beef jerky from Cattaneo Bros.Extra thin cut beef jerky from Cattaneo Bros.Cattaneo Bros.

Mantey: Any special plans for National Jerky Day? 

Kaney: We are having a one-day special of $20 off online orders over $100. Visit and use code JERKYDAY20. But really, every day is jerky day for us, so we also have monthly jerky clubs if that is the case for you too.

More in Consumer Trends