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Attacks Curbed Growth in Jerky

York producer plans bid for major accounts (October 17, 2001)
by CHARLIE YOUNG, Dispatch/Sunday News

Sales of Bill and Renee Lenzer's "Big John's Beef Jerky" had been growing strong -- until Sept. 11.

"That week no one called me," Bill Lenzer said.

The Lenzers founded SME Foods at the beginning of the year to produce a beef jerky based on a secret recipe from Renee's father, "Big John" Foster, pastor of the Wallace Street Church of God in York.

Bill quit his management job with Pizza Hut, where Renee still works, and set up shop in the York County Economic Development Corp.'s Cyber Center for start-up businesses.

Since July, SME has doubled its production capacity... That gives the company the ability to supply a regional retail chain -- when Lenzer is able to land an account.

"Knowing I still don't have nearly the capacity for national accounts, we have obtained financing to allow us to expand when it's appropriate," Lenzer said.

"My banker loves the jerky," he added.

Building image: For the time being, though, Lenzer is building his product's image so he can attract larger accounts. Big John's is now available at 20 retail outlets, including the Harley-Davidson cafeteria.

Lenzer has settled on a logo, designed by Julian Foster, his brother-in-law, and placed it on new packaging, signs and fliers. A Web site, www.bigjohnsbeefjerky.com, should be ready next week.

To support the brand identity, Lenzer makes frequent sampling stops at his retailers. In a recent event at Cape Horn Beverage, Lenzer gave out more than 100 samples.

"Out there doing the sampling, it really hit home," Lenzer said. "People say, 'Big John's? I've never heard of that.' If they haven't heard of it they probably won't buy it. We want to get people when they think of jerky, they think of 'Big John's.'"

Beyond trying to give customers more access to his product, Lenzer is giving them more choices. He recently introduced a second flavor, "fiery hot," and a new package size, a smaller 1.75oz size to complement the original 3oz package.

He is also planning to roll out a third flavor, teriyaki, and single-strip servings from counter-top jars next year.

"I have a lot of confidence we will be the biggest supplier of jerky in York County -- if not beyond," Lenzer said.

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