As Cattaneo Bros. marked its 75th anniversary in 2022, owner Katelyn Kaney wants to promote the deep roots of the San Luis Obispo, Calif., company.
The meat processor is a lean operation specializing in jerky and beef sticks as well as handmade European style sausages. The company has also become popular for its pre-made and custom holiday gift sets. Operating with about 25 employees, the company has been working out of the same 5,000-square-foot building since 1970. Kaney said it’s surprising how much volume the team can produce in the small plant, but the space is pretty much maxed out without adding weekends and double shifts.
“Most of our process is still done by hand, just like we used to do,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we can become more efficient with machinery and change a few things without changing the finished product. It is one of our challenges because really, we are a hand-crafted snack.”
The manufacturing process begins when the plant receives the raw material. The beef stick and jerky products come to the plant denuded. Then workers press the product to get it to the desired shape, stretching it into long strips before being cut into snack sizes by dedicated equipment.
After that, meat snacks are tumbled, marinated and then hung on stainless steel rods in the oven to cook and dry.
Once removed from the rods, the product is cut down to the necessary size for retail. It’s then hand-weighed and put through the packaging machine.
Quality control follows with a final check of the packaging, before the product is entered into inventory.
Kaney said the process for any turkey processing done at the facility is similar with just some variations to the spice formulation and mixing.
Cattaneo offers premium hand-cut jerky with a steak-like quality using meat from grass-fed and grain-finished cattle. The beef products are sourced from the seventh-generation Five Dot Ranch and come in original, black pepper and mesquite flavors.
The classic cut beef jerky is made from strips of corn-finished beef and is marinated in apple cider vinegar and a blend of spices. The flavors include original and black pepper varieties along with a sweet and savory teriyaki flavor made with brown sugar.
Another new product is the Range 100% grass-fed beef jerky, which comes from pasture-raised beef at SunFed Ranch and marinates in red wine vinegar.
Flavors include sea salt, black pepper, chipotle, and chile cayenne.
Extra thin-cut beef and turkey jerky are also available. The beef jerky is made similarly to the classic cut.
The turkey jerky features antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed Mary’s Free-Range Turkey Breasts and is 96% fat-free. Flavors include Honey Pineapple and Sweet & Spicy.
The 100% beef sticks are slow smoked on hickory wood chips before the air-drying process. Flavors include original, spicy and teriyaki. For distribution in retail stores, Kaney has stayed in the Northwest for the most part but is now working to expand to stores nationwide. Consumers anywhere in the country can also peruse and purchase the products directly from the company’s website, CattaneoBros.com.
Although many new snack competitors are popping up, having an established brand in California helps Cattaneo retain customers.
“We hear so many stories about people that have gone to Cal Poly, or they’ve gotten this as a Christmas gift, and it gets passed down from generation to generation,” Kaney said. “There is a lot of value in that history.”
After taking over the family business following the death of her parents at the age of 24, Kaney knew she needed a course forward for herself and the company even though she grew up knowing the meat business.
She discovered Team in Training, a fundraising program for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), and CrossFit as two communities that could help her personally and professionally.
Those positive influences allowed her to move forward and find a new niche for the business to develop with the times.
It also illustrated how athletes from all levels could access the Cattaneo meat snack for training.
“CrossFit is really where my eyes opened to a whole new way of how people ate and all these different diets and trends,” she said.
After becoming more involved with the fitness regimen, Kaney and Cattaneo Bros. set up booths at nearby Cross Fit games. Participation in these events helped the company demonstrate how healthy snacks for athletes could be expanded beyond just protein shakes or smoothies.
Cattaneo Bros. jerky has been named the official meat snack for several professional and college teams, including UCLA, Cal Poly, Arizona State University, the Utah Jazz, and the San Francisco Giants for several years.
Along with the production facility, Cattaneo Bros. also has a retail location called The Mercantile.
After seeing people crowd into a small waiting room looking to pick up their holiday orders, Kaney realized that she could create a centralized space to promote and sell meat snacks in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo.
On top of that, the store is located where Kaney’s mother used to run a boutique shop.
“When we had the opportunity to get back into the same store that she was in, I took it,” Kaney said.
Summers have become a peak season for the shop and the plant in San Luis Obispo. The town welcomes tourists from the West Coast and those touring local wineries, especially on the weekends.
“Saturdays are always a really busy time too, because you’re getting the tourists that are coming in to see the plant,” she added. “When they come to the factory, they can still see it. They can’t tour it, but they can see it. They can hear it. They can smell it. So, for many, it’s a cool experience to come in and see that and buy the jerky.”
Like many small businesses, adaptation was vital in the last few years.
Cattaneo Bros. was fortunate to have redone its website in March 2020, allowing it to optimize for online orders and other ways of making sales.
For the rest of the time, it was sticking to many of the same principles that get them through daily.
“We just ran lean when we had to, and were extra cautious about it,” Kaney said of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I just think that we tried to stay positive and not fearful of what was happening and realize that we needed to still make these snacks to fuel people.”
Now, since the company has found footing, Kaney wants to see more nationwide growth of its product in the years ahead.
Kaney and her team continue to look at which markets and higher-end specialty stores to grow into, along with increasing direct-to-consumer sales.
“The push behind that is going to be continuing to work with ambassadors and get out into different industries to promote and create exposure for the brand,” Kaney said of the future. “That aligns with who we are too. We love supporting and giving back and being a part of the journey of life. It isn’t just about making jerky, it’s about the whole thing for us.”