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Longtime jerky producer looks back on 55 years of business
SHELLEY – You’ve likely seen jerky and other Hero Snacks in Walmart, Good2Go, Broulim’s and other businesses. But what you may not know is that the plant that makes these items is right here in eastern Idaho.
Hero Snacks, formerly known as Golden Valley Natural, operates out of a 200,000-square-foot building at 815 East 1400 North in Shelley.
The 55-year-old business provides beef, turkey, pork and bison meat snacks for distributors across the country.
“Right now, you can find our products in Walmart. There’s 330 stores across the country (where you can find our products). The Hero brand is growing. We’re excited about it and (there are) great things to come in the future,” co-owner and president Ben Ball tells EastIdahoNews.com.
The business processes between 20 and 30,000 pounds of protein daily. The production takes about 24 hours to complete.
All the meat arrives fresh and is tenderized, sliced, marinated and screened, where it’s prepared for cooking in the smokehouse. After about three hours, it’s cooled and cut to fit into packages before it’s shipped out to customers. Ball wouldn’t allow us to get a detailed look at every aspect of production due to confidentiality agreements with distributors. But you can see some of it in the video above.
Ball has been involved in the company since he was a kid. His dad, Roger, started the business in 1968 on the corner of Pancheri Drive and Yellowstone Highway in Idaho Falls.
Jerky was “very dry and hard to eat” at the time, and Roger came up with a method that changed that.
“In his meat and science labs in Illinois (where he obtained a doctorate degree), he developed a process of a shelf stable, high moisture product, which he brought back to Idaho and started to distribute locally,” says Ben.
The method became a hit, and Roger went on to develop what became known as King B Jerky. It was shredded jerky in a little round container with a baseball card.
“That product was phenomenal. It did very well throughout the nation and put him on the map as a brand,” Ben explains.
In the early 1980s, Roger introduced bison jerky to the market. Though it was popular, there wasn’t enough bison to keep up with demand. He started raising his own herd as a result.
“My dad refers to bison as the lobster of the land. It’s very expensive, but it’s a very good, high-quality product,” says Ben.
Today, the Ball family owns cattle and bison ranches in Lemhi and Malad. Ben’s sons, Brock and Brigham, document what it’s like to raise bison in a Youtube series called “Bison Boys.” They’re also involved in Intermountain Packing, a meat packing plant completed last year at 1096 East Iona Road in Idaho Falls.
Roger continued to grow the business, eventually selling it to Jack Links in 2003. He maintained the rights to develop his own natural and organic jerky, which is how Golden Valley Natural was born.
Ben became a partner in the business around 2005. Hero Snacks opened at its Shelley location in 2015.
The business is the namesake for the Hero Arena at the Mountain America Center, which Ben says has brought the company a new level of recognition.
“The Hero Arena is a great asset to this community. I’ve been impressed with the attendance at the hockey games and other events. It’s something the community has been really in need of, and it’s exciting for us to be a part of that,” Ben says.
Ben is proud of the brand his father built, and he enjoys watching employees succeed. His goal is to continue to grow the company into “the best and biggest jerky brand in the world.”
“We have a beautiful facility here with lots of capacity and we need to fill that capacity with Hero jerky,” he says.