Why Is Beef Jerky So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

 

Beef jerky is dried, salted meat that is trendy snack food.

It comes from lean cuts of beef that have been marinated with a variety of spices, sauces, and other ingredients that help it become a tough, chewy snack that is healthy and delicious.

Despite its popularity, beef jerky is quite expensive compared to other snacks.

This is especially true of jerky that comes from higher-quality cuts of beef, such as tenderloin or sirloin steaks.

Here are ten reasons that will help you understand the high prices of beef jerky.

 

Why Is Beef Jerky So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

 

1. Beef Prices Are Soaring

Raw beef

 

A chain of events that ranges from higher prices for raising cattle to increased production costs has caused beef prices to soar in the United States.

Since beef jerky is made primarily from beef, this has a pronounced effect on the snack’s cost, which is passed on to the consumers who purchase it.

Corn is a top ingredient in the food used to feed cattle.

Since oil and gas prices have gone up worldwide, this also affects the production of fruits and vegetables by the machinery used to produce and transport them.

Overall, inflation is another contributing factor.

Higher prices for cattle feed mean higher beef prices.

Higher beef prices mean higher prices for beef jerky.

Rising costs for the machinery that harvests the vegetables used in the feed also come into play, as well as rising production costs.

At this time, average beef prices are at record highs, with boneless sirloin steak at almost $11 per pound in the United States.

Today’s prices are the highest historically for the month of January, as recorded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1989.

Other types of meat can be used to make jerky, and there are even vegetarian versions, but beef jerky has long been the standard that made the snack famous.

A high-quality jerky is made from lean, range-fed cuts of beef such as flank steak.

An alternate style of beef jerky is made from ground beef, which has a different texture from standard beef jerky.

With the occasional exception, more than five pounds of meat are used to manufacture one pound of beef jerky.

 

2. It Takes Time To Make Beef Jerky

Making traditional homemade beef jerky

 

Properly cured beef jerky undergoes a gradual process that cannot be rushed.

This is also a factor in its high price.

Once lean cuts of meat are trimmed and the excess fat removed by hand, the reductions are immersed in a curing solution that extends the shelf life of the jerky and gives it its characteristic smoky, spicy flavor.

The answer is also responsible for the rich, dark color of the meat after being cured.

Typically, the curing liquid is made from sodium nitrite, water, and salt.

The salt in the curing solution helps dehydrate the cuts of beef.

Sodium nitrite, another type of salt, has antimicrobial properties that help prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria.

Sodium nitrite also helps prevent oxidation.

This ingredient plays a vital role in the processing of certain foods because it blocks the development of the type of bacteria that causes botulism and helps prevent food spoilage.

This ingredient is what gives most bacon and ham their characteristic flavors.

Sometimes, beef jerky manufacturers add sodium ascorbate to the curing solution if they want their jerky to be pinker.

The curing liquid is combined with brine, which consists of various spices, sugar, salt, phosphates, and seasonings that range from mild to hot in flavor.

Some other frequently used flavorings found in beef jerky are lemon juice, soy sauce, MSG, garlic powder, and onion salt.

Some manufacturers use liquid smoke, which can be purchased separately as an ingredient or made by dissolving smoke in purified water.

This imparts a more deep, smokier flavor that eliminates the need for smoke during the cooking process.

Specific tenderizing agents are also used to process the meat because these cuts tend to be tough.

Typically, enzymes or polyphosphates are used for the tenderization process in small amounts.

Using more significant amounts will delay the time required for drying the meat.

After being marinated for an extended period, the jerky is removed from the solution and air-dried for at least 12 hours.

This time delay contributes to the cost of the product.

Often, the drying and cooking take place simultaneously.

It is best to cook the meat at a low temperature for long periods.

This causes the beef to lose most of its water weight and results in the dry, tough-textured product that characterizes beef jerky.

Cooking and drying often happen together when making beef jerky, and it’s usually better if the meat cooks at a low temperature for a long time.

However, while it’s drying, the beef will lose its water weight.

 

3. High Packaging Costs

Various beef jerky packs on a store shelf.

 

Because beef jerky is a snack sold directly from shelves rather than from a refrigerated case, it must have packaging explicitly made for this purpose.

There are several different types of packaging that cost far and above the average cost of packaging snacks.

Some manufacturers use vacuum-sealed bags to help preserve the jerky’s freshness.

Others use triple barrier bags, which entails placing the product inside a package, evacuating it, being filled with nitrogen, and finally, sealed.

This packaging method removes oxygen from the inside of the box, which prevents the jerky from spoiling.

In recent years, the use of resealable packaging has been utilized.

They consist of vacuum-sealed bags that feature a zip lock so they can be resealed after they have been opened.

Advertising is also a part of the packaging costs.

Graphic artists must be hired to create logos and packaging graphics, and store displays must be completed in some cases.

Then, there is the matter of print ads and online ads for the product that must be made.

These things add up cost-wise, and the higher prices are passed on to the consumer.

Once the jerky has been packaged, bulk quantities are placed in boxes, put on pallets, and loaded into trucks to be delivered to retail stores.

 

4. Inspections And Government Regulations

Beef Jerky on wooden background

 

Manufacturers of beef jerky have to figure the costs associated with inspections and government regulations into their pricing.

Large manufacturers must implement various quality control strategies that can be pretty expensive.

Some of the costs are paid for by the Federal Government, but not all.

Anything over and above standard testing falls into the laps of the cattle ranchers or meat packing plants.

Every beef manufacturing plant in the United States is required to pass inspections by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is governed by the USDA.

These mandatory inspections focus on the safety of the meat and its wholesomeness.

The heart is inspected for diseases, and third-party tests are also run on beef samples obtained during inspections.

These tests aim to determine whether or not any chemical or biological contamination exists in the meat.

The reviews exist to protect the consumers who purchase the heart.

 

USDA Optional Grading

Unlike the inspections geared toward safety, beef grading must be paid for by the meat processing companies that request the service.

This is most likely to occur in packaged beef jerky, a higher quality product.

The grading information helps the meat processors determine how a beef carcass is best utilized.

Unlike the safety inspections, USDA optional grading addresses the yield of the meat and its quality.

Of course, the cost of beef grading is passed on to the consumer due to the necessity of raising the prices of the products manufactured.

 

5. Labor Costs

Beef jerky

 

Beef jerky is a labor-intensive product.

Workers must be hired to inspect and hand-trim the unique lean cuts of meat to have as little fat on them as possible.

Employees are required to make the marinating solutions in large quantities, and still more employees are needed to extract the beef from the curing solution and place it on racks for cooking and drying.

This step takes constant supervision, as the heat must be monitored.

Making beef jerky is a multi-step, complex process, and hiring the necessary employees to do it costs a great deal of money, which drives up the overall price of the jerky.

 

6. Rising Shipping Costs

Warehouse workers with digital tablet

 

The prices for shipping goods have risen and continue to rise worldwide.

The costs have been reflected in the merits of the shipped goods, which impacts how much money consumers must pay to receive the products.

Some beef jerky manufacturers use beef that has been slaughtered overseas, processed, and shipped to the United States for final processing and packaging.

Carrier ships transport over 80% of the global trade, most of which arrives in the United States in substantial steel containers stacked on top of one another on substantial sea-faring vessels.

Since 2020, the costs associated with shipping in these containers have risen over seven times.

Already-rising shipping costs were exacerbated by the onset of the global pandemic, which caused shipping delays and lost goods that had to be absorbed by raising the prices.

However, shipping goods from overseas was the least of manufacturers’ worries.

Once the beef reached America’s shores, it had to be loaded onto trucks and transported to its final destination.

Rising gas prices took another chunk out of manufacturers’ budgets as, again, they had to absorb the higher costs to make sustainable profits.

Concerning shipping grains to feed cattle, a price that affects the price of beef jerky, long distances from the production plants to feed the cow herds in feed yards have caused feed prices to double.

The grains with high water content can’t be hauled very far without freight costs, making the feeds not priced competitively.

Alternative feeds also have related freight costs similar to those attached to regular feed because they, too, must be shipped, sometimes long distances.

High moisture feeds require special care, so they cannot be shipped far without their becoming cost-prohibitive.

 

7. Flavorings And Additional Costs

Colorful spices

 

High-quality beef jerky uses high-quality ingredients.

These ingredients come at a steep price.

 

Flavorings And Spices

The type and quality of the flavorings and spices used in the manufacture of beef jerky contribute significantly to the price of the jerky.

Where the spice is grown also plays into the expense of buying it.

Since beef jerky calls for spices for its curing liquid that are grown in Asia and other countries, the distance that it has to travel can cause the production costs of beef jerky to rise.

Natural flavors and spices are more in vogue than ever before, whereas, in the past, extracts or powders were used.

Unlike lower-priced synthetic ingredients, natural flavorings and spices cost more because their components entail growing plants on vast plots of land.

Many must be shipped from overseas.

Natural ingredients also have the disadvantage of having shorter shelf lives and must be stored in more expensive ways.

The spices in beef jerky have prices that fluctuate according to where they were grown.

The purity of a particular spice might also play into its price, and don’t forget grocery stores.

They may choose to place higher prices on their spices.

Even the weather of the location where the spices were grown can affect their price in terms of the yield that is harvested in a particular season.

 

Beef Shrinkage

Unlike other types of snacks, beef jerky is made from beef that has been shrunk by 60 to 70% during the drying process.

This means that beef, costly meat, must be purchased in larger quantities, and the result is much lighter than the beef that has been sold to the manufacturers by the pound.

For instance, a six-ounce steak only yields about half of that weight in jerky.

 

8. The Cost Of Cattle

Cattle

 

Those jerky manufacturers who buy beef from cattle raised in the United States face higher expenses than those who import their beef.

Economists have isolated three categories that make up the most significant percentages of raising beef: their feed, the labor and equipment used to increase it, and the depreciation of the cows.

In addition, there are other costs associated with raising cattle, such as veterinary expenses and breeding costs.

Hay production and land costs also play a role in the overall cost of beef production, which ends up being reflected in the price of jerky.

 

Feed

Cattle ranchers must shell out money for both grazed and harvested feed.

This amounts to 40–70% of the overall cost of raising cattle.

Cash costs for dinner may be lower if the ranch is owned outright.

Still, in an analysis of the economics of raising cattle, both harvested and grazed feed from owned land should be considered and valued at market prices.

Because of the rise in corn prices, cattle ranchers have begun to seek alternative means of feeding their cattle, which are proving to be expensive.

Among their considerations are ingredients, energy content, and freight costs.

Like corn prices, soybean prices have also risen very quickly since last year.

When the price of soybean meal increases, so does the cost of other protein-based feeds, including canola, linseed, and sunflower.

Distiller grains are byproducts of ethanol production and are typically priced relative to the price of corn.

However, when corn prices are high and gasoline prices are low, these grains increase fees in line with other protein markets.

Pulse crops, such as lentils, field peas, and chickpeas high in protein, have energy content similar to that of other cattle feed grains.

These legumes can be used to replace other proteins in cattle feeds.

 

Labor And Equipment

The labor and equipment associated with raising cattle must be considered a distinct pricing category because they usually go hand in hand.

While equipment is generally purchased to reduce labor costs, people are needed to operate that equipment.

This becomes a fixed overhead cost of raising cattle.

 

Cow Depreciation

Cattle ranchers have to figure in the costs of cow depreciation when determining the costs of the beef used to make beef jerky.

For instance, if a bred cow costs $1,500 and cows that leave the herd for slaughter cost $800, that this a depreciation of $700–800.

If a cow remains a part of a herd for about four years, the cost depreciates by $200 per year.

Herd depreciation can be calculated by annually comparing the market price of pregnant females that are entering the herd to the amount of money that has been generated when a cow leaves it.

Loss due to death and illness also come into play.

 

9. Demand For Gourmet Foodstuffs

Beef jerky and spice

 

The demand for beef jerky is greater today than ever before, especially for a more health conscientious demographic.

Among its many attributes, it is gluten-free, consists of high-quality protein, have no or reduced-fat levels, is an all-natural product that is hormone-free, and is now considered a gourmet snack.

Part of the appeal of eating a snack marketed as a gourmet or luxury item is paying a premium price.

As cases of COVID rose over the last few years, consumers started buying more gourmet food items.

According to a report by CNBC, sales of premium food products grew considerably during the pandemic because people no longer had the kinds of shopping opportunities they had before the pandemic, so they began feeding themselves well.

The jerky manufacturers took advantage of this shopping trend and began to market under the gourmet label, which has proven to be successful for the purveyors of jerky, but not as advantageous for the consumer.

Research shows that grocery consumers are forgoing canned goods and dried pasta and beans and choosing more luxurious specialty items.

A spokesman for a major analytics firm noted that, after the pandemic, people began to spend money in different ways than they had before the pandemic.

Spending money on luxury food items that cost more was an excellent way to relieve the associated stress.

In other words, the price of beef jerky is set, in some instances, according to the amount people are willing to pay for it.

 

10. Competition

Beef jerky on wooden board

 

After a wave of people moving toward veganism and vegetarianism, beef is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

Cattle are being raised to yield higher quality meat that contains less fat.

Designer cows are being bred and grown without the hormones and antibiotics common in beef cattle in the past.

Raising these unique cattle is more expensive than increasing the typical grocery store meat cattle.

More restaurants are serving beef dishes after the popularity of fowl has diminished.

This has caused competition in the beef industry which has driven prices higher.

Higher beef prices mean higher jerky prices.

There is a significant difference between tripe beef jerky and that made from more luxurious and expensive cuts of meat, such as tenderloin, and more jerky is being produced from these luxury cuts.

 

References:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-beef-jerky-good-for-you#nutrition-benefits

https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/national-politics/why-are-beef-prices-so-high-and-when-will-they-come-down

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-03-01/u-s-beef-prices-are-set-to-rise-further-as-ranchers-costs-soar

https://www.heritage.org/agriculture/commentary/rising-meat-prices-are-result-stew-market-forces

https://www.foodbeast.com/news/beef-jerky-cost/

https://www.karlfamilyfarms.com/blogs/news/why-is-beef-jerky-so-expensive

https://beef.unl.edu/beefwatch/2021/annual-cow-costs-%E2%80%93-big-three

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/12/shoppers-turn-toward-premium-foods-instead-of-staples-amid-covid-rise.html

https://www.drovers.com/news/beef-production/higher-feed-prices-pose-problems-cattlemen#:~:text=Dry%20matter%2C%20protein%20and%20energy,the%20price%20of%20other%20feeds.%E2%80%9D

https://www.southernliving.com/food/seasonings/spices/reasons-why-spices-are-expensive#:~:text=Production%20plays%20a%20major%20part,to%20pollinate%2C%20harvest%20and%20dry.