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Growth in Times of Contraction

How Canadian jerky company Dick Duff’s made huge strides during COVID-19

The pandemic has left many companies scrambling to find innovative ways to keep their businesses afloat, and the food industry is no exception. New ventures face an even greater challenge: establishing a customer base and increasing sales when the world is changing rapidly around them.

The founders of Dick Duff’s Organic Jerky adapted their business amidst the pandemic to turn their focus online, and the results were impressive.

The business was started in Parry Sound, Ont., by a local legend named Dick Duff who sold beef jerky within his community. After 25 years, Duff partnered with two brothers looking for a new business opportunity: Jonathan and Jeremy Anderson, who are Parry Sound locals and fans of Dick’s homemade jerky. After many innovations, the jerky was taken to the next level as a consumer product: Dick Duff’s Organic Jerky.

Being an e-commerce company wasn’t a priority in Dick Duff’s original sales plan, which primarily focused on in-store demonstrations, trade shows and retail, all options unavailable in the midst of a pandemic. Reaching new customers would be a challenge during the pandemic.

“Sampling allows you to connect with consumers – have them try your product so there’s no risk of them purchasing the product and not liking it,” says Jeremy Anderson, co-founder and president.

There are other options for getting samples to consumers, but they come with challenges. Sampling by mail is a contactless method for distributing free samples, but Dick Duff’s noted that it’s an expensive process that adds an extra step to the time between consumer trial and purchase.

Trade shows were another part of Dick Duff’s business development that wasn’t possible due to COVID-19. Since they could no longer be on the road, they went online.

“We had a number of trade shows lined up, and you’re reaching tens of thousands of people in one weekend,” Jeremy explains. “Where else are you going to be able to reach that many people in a single weekend?”

As challenges arose, they had to find a new way to reach consumers. The Andersons had a reputation to uphold and pushed through the pandemic to further Duff’s legacy, who is now 60 years of age.

“We had to figure out how we were going to reach new consumers. Online was the obvious answer,” Jeremy continues. Online sales turned out to be a positive experience for Dick Duff’s, with the company selling 15 times more jerky virtually compared to the month before the pandemic restrictions started.

Transitioning to online sales has offered the Andersons the opportunity to discover more about who their consumers are and where they live. Through e-commerce, they can sell coast-to-coast and build a national presence. As the only certified organic jerky in all of Canada, developing a strong national presence was essential.

The Andersons started with Amazon and immediately had tremendous success with the online retailer. Dick Duff’s is now one of the bestselling products in the jerky and dried meats category on Amazon.ca.

They also saw gains by partnering with food delivery services and online grocers like Fresh City Farms and Well.ca, which grew in popularity due to the pandemic, and working with subscription box companies like Carnivore Club and The Balanced Snack Box, along with sampling companies like Sampler. Getting creative, the brothers also partnered with microbrewery delivery service Brewer Eats. For most consumers, food is essential with any beer delivery. As it turns out, craft beer drinkers find organic jerky the perfect pairing.

Setting up as an online retailer wasn’t easy at first, however, challenging the Andersons to learn the online and e-commerce space quickly. They faced a learning curve when it came to understanding what works and what doesn’t, especially when it came to navigating social media for the business. With concentrated efforts to build a following, their online presence grew substantially on major social networks.

The hard work is paying off. Dick Duff’s Organic Jerky is now available online through a variety of retailers and in more than 250 brick-and-mortar stores. Each authentic and finely crafted flavour is inspired by the way Duff cooks in his kitchen. “Red Wine & Rosemary” is one of Duff’s delectable combos for his roast beef marinades, “Sweet Chipotle” comes from Duff’s spicy BBQ flavouring, and “Dijon Mustard” has always been Duff’s favourite topping on his roast beef sandwich. Unique in its lower sugar content and higher quality ingredients, the jerky will be available with additional flavour options to continue distinguishing itself from competitors.

In keeping with Duff’s original methods from 1989, the product continues to be clean, sustainable and ethically sourced, using organic beef. The product also boasts no GMOs, pesticides, added hormones, antibiotics or preservatives; priced at less than $10 per bag.

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