Beef jerky is a classic snack for many meat lovers. But it often comes with an unhealthy amount of sodium, sugar, and nitrates.
Ayoba is looking to reinvent beef jerky’s reputation by serving natural South African beef jerky lookalikes called biltong and droëwors, which are air-dried to eliminate added sugar and nitrates. Ayoba is primarily a direct-to-consumer- business with positive reviews on Amazon and solid gross margins from online sales. Now the company is expanding its distribution footprint and plans to hit 4,000 stores by 2023. We reached out to co-founder Wian van Blommestein to learn the origins of the company and the inspiration behind its name.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
Ayoba is a better-for-you snacking brand that is introducing the USA to a more delicious and nutritious alternative to traditional American meat snacks with our grass-fed, zero-sugar beef snacks called biltong and droëwors. Typically jerky is cooked at a low temperature for six hours. This leaves the beef dry. To counter that, jerky companies use either chemicals or sugar. Instead, our biltong is air-dried for up to 14 days, leaving the beef naturally tender without chemicals or sugar. The drying process also leaves more of the muscle fibers and nutrients intact, which provides up to 30% more protein than jerky, and that can’t be replicated by typical jerky processing methods.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
Ayoba was founded in my parents’ kitchen after we moved to the USA from South Africa. It was an idea that was seasoned over the first few years as we weren’t able to find our beloved South African meat snacks — biltong and droëwors — here in the USA and just weren’t willing to settle for jerky.
What started off as a Saturday morning hobby between a father and his sons slowly marinated into a business as we saw that the jerky category was continuing to grow and doing so without any real innovation. Jerky brands were also failing to address the rising trends in consumer demand, like sugar-free options. We chose the name Ayoba because it allows us to celebrate our roots in a fun and lighthearted way. “Ayoba” is a slang term from South Africa used to express agreement and approval. If you like something, you say, “That’s ayoba!”
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. Chasing the American dream was one of the most exciting parts of moving to the USA from South Africa, even at a young age of 13. Within the first year of arriving, I started walking dogs in our apartment complex after school. In college, I made themed t-shirts and sold them to other students. Those experiences, paired with strong entrepreneurial and leadership role models in my life, led to the unwavering desire to do something on my own. As our family hobby of making biltong and droëwors started to gain traction, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to leave my job and grow the business full time. At the onset, I didn’t want to take a salary from Ayoba, so I started another e-commerce business with great margins and essentially no overhead or time commitment to help pay the bills, always knowing that Ayoba was the larger opportunity at hand.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
Eating healthier doesn’t have to mean eating something less tasty. There is a big culinary world out there with endless combinations of flavors and natural ingredients that doesn’t have to be bound by borders. We see a sweet spot where two rapidly growing consumer demands intersect, and that is where we see a huge opportunity to capitalize: (1) The demand for healthier products, like sugar-free, keto, Whole30, and more, and (2) the desire for international flavors and new culinary experiences.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
Ayoba, being a family business, was started and is still run today by myself and my brother (even though my dad isn’t officially involved in Ayoba anymore, he was heavily impactful in getting Ayoba off the ground and still serves as the “unofficial” head of R&D and flavor innovation). At the early stages of Ayoba, we had multiple friends help with things like product photography, working events, shipping online orders, etc., all in exchange for free biltong (well worth it, if you ask me).
The first outside addition to the team came in the form of another South African with a resume that would make any consumer packaged goods (CPG) founder blush: our board advisor, Alan Murray. Alan’s previous roles have included C-level positions at a large multinational company, being CEO of another CPG brand that went on to obtain a substantial investment from General Mills. Alan sits on the boards of multiple brands and has negotiated successful exits to, and investments from, large multinationals, venture capitalists, and more.
Since then, we’ve also added a VP of Sales, Matt Harris, who previously worked for a nutrition bar company before it was acquired by PepsiCo. We first met Matt at a food trade show and stayed in touch until our growth and his desire for a new challenge intersected. We also have a rockstar, swiss-army-knife type of guy, Evan Wallack, who is in charge of customer experience, warehouse, logistics, inventory, and so much more.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
We don’t consider all meat snack brands to be direct competitors, but we do compete within the meat snack category and consider our competition to be the brands also focusing on healthier alternatives. We are positioning ourselves as the most premium, delicious and nutritious meat snack brand available and have successfully shown that we can bring new consumers into the category, rather than solely concentrating on stealing market share from the legacy/stale brands. We are the only biltong and droëwors brand in the USA that is paleo-certified, keto-certified, Whole30-approved, and made with pasture-raised, grass-fed beef. Our brand pillars are transparency (through the certifications just mentioned) and authenticity (being real South Africans using our own family recipe).
What does your business model look like?
We have an omnichannel approach, retail, and direct-to-consumer (DTC). About two-thirds of our current revenue is driven by DTC.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
Crowdfunding campaigns are allowing startups like ours to receive investments directly from our most loyal customers (old and new) and create a more meaningful relationship with the most valuable members of the Ayoba community. The money raised through our Republic campaign will be used to: (1) grow our sales and marketing team, (2) increase our revenue-driven digital ad spend to drive DTC growth and brand awareness, and (3) support the launch of our newest product line, Grab & Go Droëwors!
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
We take pride in positioning ourselves as the most premium option on the market. We validate this positioning by sourcing the highest quality ingredients we can find, like using only pasture-raised, grass-fed beef in our biltong and droëwors, as well as going the extra mile with obtaining third-party inspections and certifications.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
Although we are currently hyper-focused on becoming market leaders in the meat snack category, we are always thinking forward to what Ayoba can become! The holistic future view is centered around combining two growing market segments: (1) demand for healthier/better tasting products and (2) desire for new cultural/culinary experiences. This is accomplished by expanding on current website exclusive items, maintaining a firm pulse on consumer trends and continuously investing in our already healthy R&D pipeline. The end result being a healthy business and well-loved consumer brand that is ripe for acquisition.
We have identified three clear acquisition paths: (1) big CPG (examples: Kraft Heinz, Mars, PepsiCo, etc.), (2) strategic (examples: Dietz & Watson, Tyson, Jack Links), and (3) public listing (ie. IPO, SPAC, etc.).
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Wian and his team take the company. Ayoba is currently raising on Republic.