In this era of the conscious consumer, people are taking a closer look at the ingredients in the foods they buy and at the stories behind their creation and production. Jack Link's Protein Snacks, which produces a wide range of jerky and other meat- and poultry-based snacks, does well in this regard. Their products are made without MSG or nitrates or other preservatives — the exception being the Cholula-flavored jerky, because the sauce itself is made with xanthan gum, a stabilizer — and Jack Link is a real person, still active as chairman of the company.
Jack Link's has been family-owned and -operated since its founding in Minong, Wisconsin, in 1986. "The secret to our success is staying true to our heritage and values — hard work and dedication to quality," says Troy Link, Jack's son and the company's president and CEO. "We still use several of our 'Old World' spice recipes that were developed by my great-great-grandfather in the 1880s. Being family-owned, and the independence it brings, is one of the unique aspects of Jack Link’s that sets us apart from so many other brands owned by a sea of corporate giants."
Troy, who joined the family business in 1988 while he was still in high school, continues, "Entrepreneurship is fundamental to our society. My dad is an example…. When the company was founded, creating great-tasting smoked meats — a family tradition — was central to what made it successful. My dad decided to take a risk and give consumers something better than what was currently available, and eventually products that never existed until we introduced them."
Today, Jack Link’s sells its products in more than 40 countries, and operates 11 manufacturing and distribution facilities in four of them. The company's global brands include not only Jack Link’s, but also Lorissa’s Kitchen, Matador, World Kitchens, Grass Run Farms, Peperami, and BiFi. All Jack Link's products sold in the U.S. and Canada are packaged in one of five plants throughout the upper Midwest — in Alpena, South Dakota; Bellevue, Nebraska; Mankato, Minnesota; and Minong and New Glarus, Wisconsin. In all, the firm employs more than 4,000 workers.
To make their signature jerkys, says Troy, they begin with lean, high-grade cuts of meat. "For Jack Link’s Beef Jerky," he says, "we use inside round beef, which is a leaner cut with less fat and makes a better jerky. For Jack Link’s Original Chicken Jerky and Original Turkey Jerky, we use white meat chicken and turkey breasts, respectively. For our Pork Jerky we use a ham muscle called pork inside. Any noticeable fat is trimmed off of the meat, and the meat is then marinated and/or seasoned to establish the flavor of the jerky. Salt is a vital ingredient in the jerky-making process, as it helps dehydrate the meat and preserve it for longer periods of time. We hardwood-smoke our jerky to ensure an authentic taste."
He continues, "I’m incredibly lucky to be able to carry on my father’s dream and bring it to people all over the world. I also love the people that I work with. To put it simply, we’ve got the best people in the industry. Our team members, from small towns across the country and around the globe, are relentlessly passionate about making the best meat snacks in the world. That passion has helped Jack Link’s Protein Snacks grow from a small family business to the worldwide jerky leader."