Serendipity struck in the winter of 2006 on a chairlift above the slopes in Snowbird, Utah, when a Red Bull energy drink exploded in Brian Levin’s backpack, soaking his lunch. Levin chowed down on soggy beef jerky that now came with a tangy kick. A new snack was born: caffeine-enhanced dried meat.
According to Forbes, with the help of a contract food lab in California, Levin spent two years and $500,000 trying out dozens of recipes.
The result is a confection of beef, soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, garlic, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and guarana, which contains caffeine. The first batches of Perky Jerky hit convenience store shelves last August.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that meat products can’t be fortified with stimulants, but Perky Jerky says the guarana is used for flavoring.
Levin’s skill with mobile software is coming in handy. In March he struck a deal with Square, a San Francisco company that makes a gadget that plugs into iPhones, transforming them into point-of-purchase credit card machines, to let students peddle Perky Jerky out of their dorm rooms.
A few dozen students, who earn $1 on every $5 jerky packet, have signed up; Levin plans to recruit hundreds more campus closers in the fall, mainly through social media websites.
Says Levin: “We’re not going to outspend anybody or win the old-fashioned distributor game, so we have to get people asking for the stuff.”
Photo by John Johnson.