Brendan Cawley started making beef jerky when he was 10 years old. Now, following a successful debut at the 2019 NAMA Show, orders from operators are rolling in for his fast-growing company, Righteous Felon Craft Jerky.
According to Cawley, the meat snacks segment is a 3 billion dollar industry growing at 9% per year and is projected to continue rapid growth into the immediate future. “The majority of that growth is being driven through the small batch, better for you companies - just like us,” he said.
Righteous Felon offers eight different jerky flavors in a 2-ounce bag and four flavors in a 1-ounce bag. While the company offers a wide variety of exotic flavors, like Voodoo Chile, Habanero Escobar and Bourbon Franklin, the more traditional O.G. Hickory is the number one seller. “We don’t shy away from spice,” said Cawley. “People who love spicy foods can’t get enough of our products.”
With a price point that is comparable to the established national brands, Righteous Felon is starting to make headway with vending, micro market and pantry service operators. “Operators tell us that they are excited to have something different to offer in our category,” said Cawley. “We have seen the success of our products in gourmet stores, micro-breweries and hotel mini-bars. We target the 24- to 50-year-old with our marketing. Since that is a prime workplace demographic, we are well positioned for the workplace.”
Cawley points to two operators who have embraced the product. “I am very proud of our association with Blue Star on the West Coast and Corporate Essentials on the East Coast. That is a success story,” said Cawley.
The Back Story
Cawley learned the business from his uncle, a Youngstown steel worker who had his own little jerky business, selling about 100 pounds a week to his co-workers. Cawley started selling jerky in little baggies around his school and said his product “looked very similar to other things being sold in baggies.”
After being hauled to the principal’s office, a careful inspection of the baggies got him released from custody, but he and his friends talked about their distribution network as the “jerky cartel,” which resulted in the name, “Righteous Felon.”
Following five years in the aerospace industry, Cawley returned to the kitchen, making jerky part time for craft breweries and gourmet shops. “I finally quit my day job and took it full time in 2015, growing the company with samples, combined with digital and personal cold calling,” said Cawley. “This month, the company already surpassed 2018 sales.”
Bob’s Perspective – Does Righteous Felon Jerky make sense for operators?
Having operated micro markets myself, this is the type of product we would dream about, not to replace the established national brands, but to supplement them in a category that has plenty of room for variety.
Righteous Felon Jerky is a must buy for operators.
· It’s high-margin.
· High protein, better-for-you snacks, are as hot as the “Habanero Escobar” jerky flavor!
· Long shelf life, but you probably won’t be worrying about that.
· Small batch craft products are popular –microbreweries, soda makers, small roasters – jerky is no exception.
· Distribution is in place – typically a challenge for hand crafted suppliers.
· Their marketing is irreverent, but fun. These are the kind of people you root for in business.
· Cawley is focusing on hiring employees who have been incarcerated for non-violent crimes and are in need of a second chance. “It is consistent with our theme, but it is also a concept we feel strongly about,” he said.
I have done business with industry-leading operators like Blue Star and Corporate Essentials over the years. Because of their amenity-hungry client base, they tend to be one step ahead of the competition when it comes to sourcing products. If they are carrying Righteous Felon Jerky for their locations – that’s good enough for me. Righteous Felon products are available through Vistar, UNFI and RTZN Brands, which is a distribution company that specializes in small batch products from about 50 food companies.