Jack Link's: Why we invested in Auckland

It’s like sending coal to Newcastle. Jack Link’s New Zealand, based in Auckland, makes nutritious beef snacks and exports them to the home of jerky – the United States.

For 10 years, Jack Link’s New Zealand has sent 80 per cent of its production to the big US market, even though its American parent owner has five processing plants in its own country.

The Americans were interested in New Zealand’s quality beef that has less fat, they welcomed the country’s stringent food safety regulations, and it was no more expensive to make the jerky here than in the US.

The American investment in Auckland has enabled Jack Link’s to employ 250 local people and produce more than 100 tonnes of beef snacks – jerky, steak bars and beef sticks – a week.

"It’s been a beneficial relationship," says Maurice Crosby, Chief Executive of Jack Link’s New Zealand. "We have access to their technology and expertise, and to their market – they’ve been making jerky in the United States for 20 years. It’s gone from being a truck driver’s snack to a mainstream snack."

"We can give them a supply of quality jerky with minimal problems, and the owners freely acknowledge we are amongst the best processors, if not the best, in the (global) group,’’ says Maurice Crosby.

Jack Link’s buys export-grade beef from all of New Zealand’s major meat processors including Affco and Silver Fern Farms. "We use 100 Visual Lean topside beef and we have a ready supply," says Maurice Crosby. "The jerky here is made from grass-fed beef that is low in fat. In the United States the cattle are grain fed and the beef is higher in fat content. It tastes good but it’s not as good for jerky."

Jack Link’s, which operates a 3500 sq m, state-of-the-art factory near Auckland airport, exports to Australia, Tahiti, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Vietnam, Europe and the Middle East, as well as the US. The New Zealand manufacturer also supplies New Zealand, Australian, British and Norwegian armies, and they require a three-year shelf life, instead of 18 months, for the beef jerky.

Jack Link’s is also eyeing the Chinese market. The company has passed United States Department of Agriculture, European Union and Chinese audits and is now waiting to be issued a licence to import into China.

"We are constantly getting inquiries from China – jerky is well known there – and we believe there’s a fantastic opportunity. Potentially, we could put our entire production into China without any problem at all," says Maurice Crosby.

A group of Chinese distributors hosted by Jack Link’s were impressed by the cleanliness and standards in the factory, and they wanted to supply supermarkets in China.

Family-owned Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, based in Minong, Wisconsin, first entered a joint venture with the late John Corner after he met the American owners at a trade show in Japan about 14 years ago.

The factory in Auckland was opened in July 2002. Mr Corner passed away in December 2008, and the American parent company took full ownership of the Auckland operation. Jack Link’s New Zealand has grown at an average rate of 20 per cent a year since 2008.

The pace will certainly pick up once the Chinese business comes on stream, and Jack Link’s has the room to expand its factory, if it needs to.