Nuts about jerky
It’s 2 p.m. on a Monday, and you’re stuck at your desk. Your stomach is growling. Time for a snack. Hmm, how about some maltodextrin? What about hydrolyzed corn protein? Or sodium erythorbate?
These are just some of the ingredients in your typical store-bought beef jerky.
Not very appetizing? Entrepreneur Lauren O’Donnell Back ’04 agrees.
Now an award-winning company, Backattack Snacks was born from the desire of Back and her husband, Brian, to eat healthy. When trainers at their local Crossfit gym encouraged them to eat beef jerky and nuts, they were shocked at what they read on the nutrition labels. The labels contained complicated additives and chemicals, inspiring Brian to make his own jerky.
He started with a dehydrator he received for Christmas, and the couple began sharing it with friends at their gym and church.
“Someone at church said, ‘This is hands down the best beef jerky I've ever had in my life. I want to pay for it,’” Lauren said. “So, we started going through about 50 pounds of raw beef a week.”
“This is hands down the best beef jerky I’ve ever had in my life. I want to pay for it.”
Once the jerky business was born, the couple started experimenting with adding almonds. While Brian was making jerky one day, he had extra marinade without any beef to put in it, so he mixed almonds in it and roasted them, creating Backattack Snacks’ Signature Recipe Almonds.
In fact, Backattack is named in Brian’s honor — it's his nickname. It’s fitting, Lauren said, “because we're pretty sure he's lactose intolerant. Plus, every flavor has a heat sensation that sneaks up on the back end.”
The endeavor thrived until 2014, when Lauren suffered some health complications and was forced to retire from teaching, a career she had enjoyed since her graduation from UD with a degree in early childhood education. After recovering, she began selling their almonds and jerky at a craft fair, marking the official start of their business.
“Being a teacher by trade, I took it upon myself to learn everything I could about running a business, specifically a food business,” she said.
In 2016, Backattack Snacks won the Shark Bank entrepreneurial contest sponsored by Heinen’s, a high-end grocery store chain in Cleveland, granting them distribution in all Heinen’s stores.
Soon, the company gained distribution in Target stores in Northeast Ohio and all Meijer stores. This allowed the Backs to launch two other businesses related to their distribution and manufacturing.
In the last several years, the company has created the Fieldhouse Fuel snack mix for Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and supplied almonds for one of the Cleveland Guardians’ All-Star weeks.
Despite the push to grow, Backattack Snacks has retained its mission: to provide healthy, convenient and delicious snacks. Their snacks are free from added sugars, nitrites, nitrates, preservatives and acids, and all ingredients are natural.
They have even resisted acquisition from major companies. “We weren’t willing to sacrifice our flavor, our texture and our profile,” Lauren said.
“We weren’t willing to sacrifice our flavor, our texture and our profile.”
After Brian stepped down from the business in 2021, Backattack Snacks became a certified woman-owned business through the Women's Business Enterprise National Council.
Lauren said she wants her company to be a force to be reckoned with in the snack business and stand up to competitors.
“I’d like to be the big little guy,” she said. “A lot of the competing brands put a lot of junk in their food that you really shouldn't be putting in your body. I’d like Backattack to be a household name.”
Lauren invites Flyers to use the code UDFLYER to receive 15% off their first order.