Meat Sticks
Presenting customers with new flavor profiles and innovative products is a specialty of the Hankes family's Thrushwood Farms. 
Quickening the pace

Ramping up production means making operations more efficient, Doug says, including investing in larger grinding equipment and dumpers, and shopping for horizontal flow smokehouses to maximize the cooking square footage. This all translates to offering a more diverse product mix. “We’ve seen a huge jump in SKUs this year,” he says, which have included more requests for specialty items including venison, wild boar and bison-based products.

Already an established co-packer for many customers in the meat snack segment, Hankes says his customers in that space are especially active in R&D as of late. Acquisition deals that saw jerky companies like Krave Pure Foods get purchased by Hershey Co. in early 2015 and Epic Provisions, another premium meat snack brand, accept an offer its founders couldn’t refuse from General Mills earlier this year, have gotten plenty of attention from other players in this space. In many ways, the attention those deals have received has been good for other companies competing in the meat snack segment.

In an era when many new product innovations are rolling out, many of Thrushwood’s customers come to the company with a recipe they want to mass produce while others have a concept they need help developing and still others rely on Doug and his team to work as their unofficial third-party new product developers.

“As we invest in equipment here and we’re trying to find ways to further enhance the use of that equipment,” Doug says, “we may go to a customer and say, ‘hey, we have this idea for you that fits your parameters, so look at it and tell us if you’re interested in it.’ More times than not, the answer is ‘yes’ and we end up with that product or a variation of that product,” he says.

As a relatively small operation, Thrushwood is able to offer customers quick turnarounds on production runs and new product rollouts, which is an advantage not available to all companies competing in the meat snack business today.

“I’ve never had this many products being launched right now by so many people in terms of what we are co-packing,” Doug says. “We’re seeing a whole generation of people that are into snacking.”