Beef jerky firm grows with tool trucks and BevMo |

Beef jerky firm grows with tool trucks and BevMo

After 31 years in the beef jerky business, Ajay Avery of Alta Sierra is expanding sales with a new marketing attack that strikes polar opposites.

The entrepreneur still sells nine different styles of jerky and beef sticks through two strong Budweiser distributors in Eureka and Elko, Nev. that has always provided a good base for sales now approaching $1.2 million annually.

In the last two years, he has taken Ajay’s Montana Bananas Gourmet Beef Jerky to Beverages and More – the BevMo! chain – and 124 tool trucks that sell the beef treats to mechanics looking for a snack.

“The tool trucks are our number one focus point now,” Avery said recently. “They sell to mechanics in 10 (western) states and they love it.

“We’re also into beauty shops, offices and car dealerships,” Avery said, making direct sales for employee snack purchases. “I’m on the road myself two days a week,” filling orders in Nevada and northern California stores.

The BevMo! account came after Avery failed to get into Trader Joe’s. That firm wanted a natural product.

“This isn’t an organic product. We have preservatives in it for shelf-life,” Avery said. “Your average beef jerky consumer is not overly-concerned about what is in it anyway.

“It’s been a tough three decades,” Avery said. “Big-chain stores don’t want an upper-end product, but BevMo! did.

“Most of them want a mid-level product from a large distributor who brings in many products and one invoice,” Avery said. “I understand it, but it’s sad, because the best jerky isn’t there, the best cookie isn’t there.”

Fortunately for Avery, taste buds come into play for his jerky and that’s how the BevMo! account was landed. A former liquor store buyer in the Bay Area who had purchased Montana Bananas for years moved over to BevMo! and thought it might be a natural product for the growing chain.

In December 2006, Montana Bananas went into Beverages and More, bringing a sales boost.

“They had 52 stores when we went in and now there’s 92 of them,” Avery said. “The Auburn store that opened in August was number 91 and they’re in Arizona now as well.”

A bag of the gourmet jerky cost $6.99, which is the going rate for most jerky, Avery said and a price he hasn’t increased since 1992.

The jerky entrepreneur still plays some country-rock music and will never forget how his professional musician past led to his current calling.

In 1977 while touring with the band Cayenne out of San Francisco, Avery and a bandmate pulled into a funky-looking place in Missoula, Mont. for gas. Inside was an old-fashioned butcher shop with jerky in long strips on the counter.

“I saw the jerky and I was a longtime fanatic and it looked better than any I had ever seen or had,” and turned out to be delicious. Avery started buying small batches from butcher Ben Wilkinson and his wife Helen.

He eventually bought the recipe for what he now calls the Original Cowboy Dry and paid Wilkinson a 1 percent wholesale royalty until his death.

These days, Avery buys top of the round beef and has it smoked in Sacramento at the Stafford Meat Company. The cowboy dry jerky remains a favorite, because it’s water base brings back a chewy remembrance.

“People go crazy when they find it,” Avery said. “It triggers a Baby Boomer nostalgia for something we had when we were kids.”

There are also oil-based jerkies and beef sticks in Avery’s stable, which are not as hard to make and what many people are used to these days, he said.

“I hope to stay with BevMo!” Avery said. “It’s a gourmet-oriented store and it’s been a financial boost and good association.”

To contact senior Staff Writer Dave Moller e-mail or call 477-4237.

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