Consumer trends like keto, paleo, high-protein, and others have converged in recent years to help fuel soaring sales of jerky and other meat snacks. With more than three-quarters of a century’s worth of experience producing handmade jerky, sausages, and meat sticks, Cattaneo Bros. has been at its craft long before those diets were trendy.
Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery recently spoke with Katelyn Kaney, CEO of Cattaneo Bros., to learn more about the company’s history, growth, and commitment to providing meat-loving snackers with carefully crafted products.
Jenni Spinner: Could you please share the story of Cattaneo Bros—how you got started, key product offerings, and what sets you apart from other companies who are operating in the same space?
Katelyn Kaney: Cattaneo Bros. was started by two Italian brothers making a name for themselves in the Central Coast of California. This heritage and our traditional style of handcrafting meat snacks that it inspired, sets us apart in this marketplace. Family owned and operated, we are a meat processor and food manufacturer, allowing us to control the quality of our products from farm to package. Our small-batch, premium jerky offerings include easy-to-eat Extra-Thin Cut beef jerky, Premium Handcut Jerky (we also call this cowboy style), Classic, and Range 100% Grass-Fed Beef Jerky. We also make European-style sausages and hickory smoked, 100% beef sticks.
Think of an old-fashioned meat-market where you’d see pepperoni and other meats hanging and drying, that’s what our facilities look like. Though we dry our turkey jerky on screens, our beef jerky, sticks and sausages are hung to dry on steel rods, low and slow in hot brick ovens, the old-fashioned way. All of our products are made from whole muscle cuts of meat, never pressed, ground, or formed: no fillers, no by-products, and no MSG. They’re also tumbled in hand-mixed spices that are created daily from common kitchen staples.
We believe that the less steps between raw ingredients and the final product, the better, and that the best way to get something to taste good is to care about the quality of every ingredient you use. These values, which live at the core of our company, are what make Cattaneo Bros. so unique and keeps our customers coming back for more.
JS: Let’s talk a bit about your history—you just passed the 75-year mark not too long ago, and that kind of longevity is not exactly common in the snack field. Can you offer some insights about what your longevity might be attributed to?
KK: We are passionate about fueling healthy lifestyles with protein-packed, simple-ingredient snacks, while staying strongly rooted in our tradition and values. We’ve never wavered from that, and I think our transparency about who we are, and our commitment to quality, resonates with people in the ever-evolving snack world. We’re also fortunate to be an established brand in California and that our hometown of San Luis Obispo has really embraced our products and supported us. Many residents here have fond holiday memories of receiving our gift packs, which we’ve been making by hand since 1971. We have a loyal following in our hometown, along with the Western community, which we proudly serve as we simultaneously work to expand our reach.
JS: Thanks in part to low-carb trends like keto and paleo taking off, there’s been a lot of interest in jerky and other meat snacks. Please share your thoughts about that particular consumer interest, and how your company has grown or evolved in the face of the jerky surge.
KK: In addition to specific diets like paleo and keto that have boosted the popularity of jerky, people are really starting to think about what they’re putting into their bodies and how they can make better choices. Cattaneo Bros. has always made simple, nutritious, and delicious products, but I wanted to take it a step further and offer our customers an option designed to support healthy lifestyles. That led me to create Range 100% Grass-Fed Beef Jerky, which is unique in that it contains no added nitrites. With no sugar and cut extra thin so it’s easy to tear and eat, the product also delivers 16g of protein. When we were developing the lineup, I wanted to have flavors that were simple, but a little different than what was already out there, which is how we landed on Sea Salt, Black Pepper, Chipotle (my favorite!), and Chile Cayenne. The grass-fed and grass-finished beef used in the jerky is sourced exclusively from a local producer, SunFed Ranch in California. Knowing that the beef we use comes from American Family Ranches that care about their cattle and the land is very important to me and makes this line even more special.
JS: Please tell us how your products are produced.
KK: We source our meat exclusively from beef and poultry producers in the U.S., and only top-round, whole-muscle cuts are used. Our beef sticks and jerky products come to our plant denuded and are stretched to the desired shape before being cut. The meat snacks are then tumbled in hand-mixed spices, marinated in apple cider or red wine vinegar, and then hung on stainless steel rods (not screens) in hot brick ovens to cook. After being removed from the rods, the dried meat is cut down to the retail size. It’s then hand-weighed and put through the packaging machine. Our turkey processing is similar, with slight variations in spices and mixing. Our beef sticks are slow smoked on real hickory wood chips and dried for days.
JS: You’ve described your process as “handcrafted.” Could you please talk about that history, and share your thoughts about the possibility of going more high-tech or automated in your processing?
KK: We still do a lot of our processing the old-fashioned way, and it’s something we’re really proud of. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about increasing efficiency with machinery without changing the finished product. Finding that balance is a challenge because much of our meat snacks’ taste and texture comes from being a handcrafted product.
JS: You became CEO at a very young age—please talk about the experience of taking the reins of a well-respected snack producer at 24. Feel free to share lessons you’ve learned since then, and how growing up in the business helped prepare you.
KK: Growing up, I worked alongside my parents at Cattaneo Bros., so I was very familiar with the products, the rich history, and the company’s values. With a background in agriculture, my father valued knowing where our food came from and fostering respectful relationships with ranchers. He also had a love for production and creating new recipes, which are still sold and popular today. My mother was behind Cattaneo Bros.’ well-loved gift baskets and establishing the brand’s ecommerce capabilities to bring the products beyond our own neighborhood.
My transition to CEO in 2008 happened very suddenly after my parents passed away, and I had to learn the ropes of running the business from the ground up. I worked hard to continue the labors of love my parents started, while adding to them with things like new product launches, a jerky of the month club, custom-order gifts, and outreach efforts to our community. As an athlete and mom of twin boys, I bring to the role a passion for creating clean-ingredient products that can help families make good choices.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that growth takes time and that’s okay. For me, what has always been most important when running this business is making sure that we never sacrifice our values, even if that has meant missing certain opportunities for growth over the years. It was better for us to build a solid foundation before taking on new ventures and expansion. I’m on a journey for the greater good, carrying on a legacy all while taking care of my team, who is like family, and balancing life as a mom and CEO. I always knew that if Cattaneo Bros. stayed true to who we are, the growth of the company would happen organically, and more doors would open when the timing was right. This has never been about chasing fads or trends. I’m more interested in changing the way people snack and keeping them fueled with delicious snacks to help them live a healthy, happy life.
JS: Please share some insights about how Cattaneo gets its product into the hands of customers—feel free to talk about anything from your marketing strategy, to your catalog/ecommerce business, to plans to expand your retail reach.
KK: Most of our brick-and-mortar distribution is on the West Coast, but our products are available for retailers nationwide to carry, and we’re actively working on expanding our retail presence throughout the United States. We’re also increasing our direct-to-consumer sales through our website, which allows us to ship nationwide, and using social media to drive customers to the site. On the marketing side, we work with ambassadors to promote our products and expand our presence in various industries. For example, Cattaneo Bros. has a strong background in the Western and ag industry, which is also a personal passion of mine, so we’re continuing to reach that audience though rodeo ambassadors and event sponsorships.
I also value building personal connections with our customers, and one of my favorite parts of this business is traveling to shows and events throughout the country to showcase our products. We know that once people try our jerky, they’re hooked! I started going to food shows with my dad when I was little and saw first-hand how he built those relationships. Seeing people’s reactions to sampling Cattaneo Bros. products has always stuck with me. Now, I get to go to food shows with my boys, which is pretty special, as I have many fond memories of being on the road with my parents. These shows are a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and customers and continue to build on the community that is so important to us.
JS: What’s next for the company—do you have any plans for new outlets, products, expansion, or other news you’d like to share?
KK: We’re continuing our expansion into retail stores throughout the United States and increasing our online presence through Amazon and Faire. We have future plans to expand our current building or add a new facility to increase production. We’re also developing a new line of smaller snack-pack sizes and kid-friendly options and are working on securing better options and rates for our sausages to ship nationwide.