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High-end beef jerky born from one woman’s pregnancy cravings

It's being called the "lovechild of jerky and prosciutto."

"Get ready America, you're about to taste your new favorite snack," entrepreneur Monique St. Luce says.

It's known as biltong, a traditional South African treat using cuts of beef, rubbed in vinegar and spices then hung to air dry.

A South African native, St. Luce craved biltong during her pregnancy in New York.

Unhappy with the cured beef products offered here, she and her husband, Camran, co-founded Jonty Jacobs, a South African specialty food brand bringing high-end beef snacks to the U.S. market.

"We use high-quality ingredients and an all-natural curing process to maintain the meat's natural and tender flavor rather than simply coating it and drying it," she said.

The meat of the matter

Jonty Jacobs’ biltong- a traditional South African treat using cuts of beef, rubbed in vinegar and spices then hung to air dry.
CNBC
Jonty Jacobs’ biltong- a traditional South African treat using cuts of beef, rubbed in vinegar and spices then hung to air dry.

The name of the start-up, which launched in 2013, had several inspirations. Her mother's maiden name was Jacobs, and Jonty was the name of the butcher who made Monique's biltong when she was growing up and it's the name of her favorite cricket player, Jonty Rhodes.

Jonty Jacobs has a store in New York's West Village and a location in San Diego's La Jolla section, but it also retails through the company's website.

The biltong costs around $40 a pound, or $11 for 4 ounces. Angel investor Alicia Syrett questioned how the start-up is able to justify the price.

"In other countries people spend the majority of what they earn on quality food and ingredients, whereas in America, quite often it's trying to get the cheapest thing that you can." St. Luce said. "I think focusing on health, explaining to people the benefits, like this is great for diabetics, it's gluten free. There's so many positive aspects in what we try to provide, and that's really how you justify the cost."

Venture capitalist Nir Liberboim, who has invested in food brands, wondered how large the market is for beef jerky and for upscale beef.

St. Luce estimates the market size for beef jerky to be $4 billion to $5 billion, and the high-end beef market at several hundred million dollars. "It's something that's really taken off of late with people being concerned with the quality of food they're eating, " she told CNBC.

But in a saturated market dominated by brands like Con Agra's Slim Jim, venture capitalist Nikhil Kalghatgi was concerned about competitive advantage.

"I think once you taste it, you can see that it's different," St. Luce said. "And this is a social snack. I think quite often, even for women, beef jerky's not necessarily the most appealing product. And while this is not beef jerky, to make it relatable again, it's something that my girlfriends love to eat because it's low in carbs."

The start-up would not disclose any sale specifics, and but said it projects 2017 sales to reach $750,000.

Headquartered in New York, Jonty Jacobs works with a butcher in North Carolina, and two beef providers in New Zealand. It is self-funded with $500,000 to date.


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