SASKATOON — As a former high-performance athlete, Chelsey Parker knows the value of good protein.
The past national speed skating team member from Saskatchewan also knows her customer.
Today’s consumers are more conscious of animal welfare and food quality, she says. They’re busy, and they’re getting mixed messages about what they should eat.
“You can eat meat,” she says. “Just eat it smart.”
That’s where her beef jerky, which she describes as the original road fuel, comes in.
Parker opened Meat Chops Leather Shop slightly more than a year ago with a meat mantra of “Eat Meat. Craft Leather. Respect Cow.”
The idea is to stand behind how the animal is raised and slaughtered. She works with Qu’Appelle Beef and its Neudorf, Sask., facility, designed by Temple Grandin, to source Saskatchewan grass-fed beef for her products.
She uses the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre in Saskatoon to make the jerky.
There, it is hand-crafted into up to 4,000 packages at a time. Her goal is to pack 1,000 kilograms per month, which would still only use cuts from up to six animals.
Her company is small, she admits, but it is growing.
“I see the value of investing my money into Saskatchewan,” Parker said.
Value is a word she uses often.
For example, sourcing beef from ranches that manage their cattle a certain way fits a value system she likes.
She uses quality cuts of meat to make her jerky to provide value to the customer.
And, she earns value in a niche market.
“We’re Canada’s best craft, grass-fed beef jerky,” she said.
“We’re being recognized because of our differentiation. We’re not cutting corners and we tell a story.”
Meat Chops jerky is made from clean, simple ingredients that people can understand when they read the packaging, she said. It packs a protein punch of 12 grams and has the lowest sodium content that she could find when she compared it to other products.
Parker recently received a Saskatchewan Agri-Value Initiative grant to help with product development, marketing and education.
She had a booth at Regina’s Canadian Western Agribition last year, where some ranchers challenged her decision to use grass-fed beef and focus on the cattle’s quality of life. But she said she is filling a niche market in a competitive industry.
Other marketing efforts have included branded jerky products for musicians such as Corb Lund, Colter Wall and the Dead South. They take the branded products on the road with them all over the world.
Social media posts from them and fans also help.
“That means a lot of eyeballs seeing a Saskatchewan company that has Saskatchewan beef that is now aligned with one of their favourite bands,” Parker said.
She has made a post-rodeo jerky branded as buckaroo chew. And, she is working on a mini-meats line that children could take in school lunches.
Her current focus at the Food Centre is developing a simmered beef bone broth from the grass-fed, federally inspected product she uses. Parker said there is a growing demand for bone broth for its glucosamine, collagen and other healthy properties.
She is using an old family recipe from a friend and is testing pasteurization and packaging before taking it to market.
The leather shop aspect of the business comes from Parker’s hobby of making everything from belts to wallets to motorbike seats.