Rancher starts his own beef jerky business, Montana Chop Sticks
October 24, 2017
As a fifth-generation Montana farmer and rancher, Colter DeVries, was one of the first in his family to attend college. DeVries studied finance and business at Montana State University in Bozeman. It was here that he started working for a commodities trading platform and took an interest in marketing.
"It's always been the new progressive technologies and changes that really excites me and drives me," DeVries said.
Ever since DeVries was a kid, he wanted to start a business. When he was young he would go into town and sell potato sacks of cow manure as fertilizer. Since then he has always been thinking of new opportunities.
"I'm not afraid to be different," DeVries said. "I was never afraid to try new things on the ranch and I was the black sheep; I had no problem stepping out, being heard, being seen, trying new things."
It was in June of 2014, that DeVries started his cattle herd with an FFA Beginning Farmer Loan. After two years, the cattle market took a hit, causing DeVries to be in a tough spot financially. With his background in business, DeVries knew he needed to cut costs and find a way to differentiate.
"Differentiating to me was Wagyu," he said.
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With this in mind, he set out to build up a Wagyu herd. He leased out six full-bred Wagyu bulls from Six Bucks Ranch to breed to his 185-cow herd. He looked into a variety of other cattle breeds but the genetics of Wagyu interested DeVries as they have high-quality marbling.
After some research and speaking with other producers, he ultimately decided that a 50-50 cross would create a product that would please consumers. The American palate isn't familiar with full-blood Wagyu beef so it can seem mushy, but he thought the cross would result in just the right taste and texture.
He moved into the market excited to find a way to create a value-added product by exploiting the genes of the Wagyu beef. His business plan is to focus on one product: Wagyu meat sticks, and offer only a handful of flavor varieties.
Because this product is a premium, DeVries had the opportunity to try new things and experiment a little with flavors. He has an Original flavor to keep things simple yet flavorful. There is a Wasabi Ginger flavor and a Teriyaki flavor. DeVries is also thinking of experimenting with a White Truffle flavor.
DeVries is making this product tailored to small-batch craft production, with the focusing on how it will compliment microbrewers and wine drinkers. His belief is that this product can be a substitute for the meat and cheese boards. He plans to focus on an online market by highlighting the unique flavors the product has to offer.
Playing on the idea of Wagyu being a Japanese breed and focusing on the higher-end clientele, DeVries came up with the brand name of Montana Chop Sticks. Montana Chop Sticks can be found online at http://www.montanachopsticks.com.
Currently, DeVries raises all the beef for the production of this product. He explained that because of this, scaling will be an issue. There is large overhead costs, lots of capital and it takes time to rapidly grow a business like this.
As of right now, everything is done in-house. In time, DeVries would like to outsource marketing and eventually, his bigger goal is to outsource production. Eventually, he hopes the business will transition into a co-op to involve other producers.
"My heart is in agriculture, it's in my community, my industry," DeVries said. "If I can create premiums and if I can create more value in the industry I want to share that, I want that to go around. There are too many people struggling and we can all get through this and we can all find ways to add value and benefit and I would like to help with that."
DeVries will be selling the rib and loin section at wholesale, while the trim will be made into the beef sticks to create the Montana Chop Sticks. It takes about 42 days from slaughter to warehouse.
C&K Meats will be processing and making the beef sticks, as DeVries has known the owners for a long time. They are MSU alumni and he went to school with their kids.
"I really believe in this recurring and resurrecting trend of store fronts and corner butcher shops," DeVries said. "They are kind of taking off in urban centers again and largely it's based on 'know your farmer,' which I definitely support."
DeVries is excited about the future of his company and is currently raising money with a Kickstarter campaign. He was worried about the critics when he launched his Kickstarter campaign but has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of support he has received from his hometown, college network and friends.
"I will succeed because no one will outwork me, I have no quit in me; I don't give up," he said. "I have had my fair share of bad ideas and failures and I just keep getting up and I will continue to do that."